Joan of Arc. Jules Bastien-Lepage (French, 1848–1884). 1879. Oil on canvas.
100 x 110 in. (254 x 279.4 cm) Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art open access.
How the artist almost cut the scene in half, vertically, into two paintings. Still images. Divided worlds. The seen and not. Two views. One story. Joan on earth dreamy-eyed and looking lost, away, looking for something to save her from brown-green existence. Family who did not understand her talking to herself in the garden. She said she saw apparitions, blinding light, heard Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret, calling her to help the Dauphin, to fight the English. As Jehanne of Domremy, she was helpless, threatened by invaders who burned towns, kept consuming her country. As Jeanne d’Arc she was freed from an arranged marriage, a peasant future. Gifted with a purpose big enough to match her hope. Joan, work-tanned, muscled, callused, was ready to become the voice in others’ ears, the messenger stepping out of a tree’s shadow and away from stone house background. Untangling fingers from leaves and family branches. Turning away from sky to ground beneath feet. Home. The home others needed the will to fight for, the willingness to lose their lives for, to feel the cause of war was greater than themselves. Isn’t this the ever-told story? A man pulls a sword from a stone, gathers knights around a table. A woman accepts a flower from an archangel, a womb filled by God. A king urges weary warriors once more into the breach. A girl, soon woman, talks to angels among grasses and wildflowers. A war is waged for a century. A virgin calls her people together to fight a foreign tyranny. A martyr relinquishes her life.
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