Joan Of Arc - Jules Bastien-lepage
( Originally Published 1918 )
Questions to arouse interest. What is rep-resented in this picture? Where is it supposed to be? What is the girl doing? How many figures can you see faintly suggested against the trees and the house? Why do you think they are not real like the girl? What can you see in the distance? What can you tell about Joan of Arc? Where does she seem to be looking? How is she dressed? What is there about her that makes you think she is used to hard work? that she is serious and thoughtful? that she must be very much in earnest? that she is forgetful of self? Where does the light in the picture seem to come from?
Original Picture : Metropolitan Art Museum, New York City.
Artist: Jules Bastien-Lepage (bâs' tyaN'-lé pazh'). Birthplace : Damvillers, France.
Dates: Born, 1848; died, 1884.
The story of the picture. Far away among the wild hills of France, in the village of Dom remy, lived Joan of Arc, the " Maid of Orleans." Her father was a small farmer, and all her people were working people. Joan's life was not an idle one, for we are told that she was an expert at sewing and spinning, that she tended the sheep and cattle, and rode the horses to and from the watering places. But she could neither read nor write, as she had received no education. When she wished to send a letter she would dictate it to some one who could write, and then make the mark of a cross at the top. As she was of an intensely religious nature, she often wandered off by herself and remained in prayer for hours, sometimes in the fields or the great forest near by, and sometimes in the village church.
About this time France was frequently invaded by the English, and even the small village in which Joan lived had been entered and plundered.
There had been so many intermarriages between the royal houses of France and England that it was doubtful who was the rightful heir to the throne. France was divided into two factions, yet all agreed in their hatred of the English who had taken possession of the northern part of the country. Worst of all, the queen mother Isabella supported the claims of her grandson, an Englishman, against those of her own son, Charles, the French prince.
This agreed with an old prophecy known to the country people, that France should be lost by a woman and saved by a woman. The queen, Isabella, who finally secured the crown for her English grandson, was regarded as the woman who lost France; and later it became generally believed that Joan of Arc was the woman who saved France.
Joan prayed constantly for the deliverance of her country from the English. At last one day she told her father that she had seen an unearthly light and heard a voice telling her that she was to go and help the French prince. Again the vision appeared, and this time she said she had seen St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret, who told. her that she was appointed by heaven to go to the aid of Prince Charles. Her father tried to laugh her out of her "fancy," as he called it, and did all he could to dissuade her, but Joan was resolute and declared she must go.
The village people were very superstitious, and when they heard of Joan's wonderful visions they were immediately convinced. An uncle of Joan's, who was a wheelwright and cartmaker, offered to take her to a high nobleman who, according to the vision, should bring her before the prince. This nobleman laughed at her, but later on became sufficiently convinced to give her a horse, a suit of armor, and two guards to escort her to Prince Charles.
After traveling eleven days through a wild country, constantly on the watch for the enemy, she finally reached Chinon, where Charles was staying. Although he was dressed exactly like the men about him, Joan picked him out immediately, and told him she had been sent by heaven to conquer his enemies and see him crowned king at Rheims. She also told him several things supposed to be secret, known only to himself, and so she was able to gain his confidence.
She told him too that in the Cathedral of St. Catherine, some distance away, he would find an old sword, marked on the blade with five crosses, which the vision had told her she should wear. No one had ever heard of this old sword, and it seemed very wonderful that Joan should know about it; but it was found in the cathedral just as she had said.
Charles then asked the opinion of all the wise men about him, and all agreed that Joan was inspired by heaven. This put new life into the French soldiers, but discouraged the English, who thought Joan was a witch.
And then it was that Joan rode on to the Siege of Orleans in which, as we know, the French were victorious. She rode on a beautiful white war horse, her armor glittering so in the sun that she could be seen for a great distance, and she carried a white flag. Twice she was wounded during the terrible battle which followed, but each time she was soon up and at the head of the French again, the English fleeing before them.
We know how the French fought their way to Rheims, where Charles VII was crowned; and how Joan then declared her work completed and begged to be allowed to return to her home; but King Charles would not consent. We do not like to think of how this weak king did nothing to help her when she was finally taken prisoner and sold by the Duke of Burgundy to the English, who burned her at the stake as a heretic and witch. It was not until ten years later that Charles VII publicly recognized the service she had done, and declared her "a martyr to her religion, her country, and her king."
In the picture we see the "Maid of Orleans" listening to the voices. As she sat in the shade of the great apple tree winding yarn, she had suddenly heard voices, and then a vision of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine, the saints to whom she had prayed so often in the little church, appeared before her. She trembled, and rising, walked forward. Now, leaning against a tree, she gazes at the vision. She imagines herself clad in armor and presented with a sword by the saints, who tell her that heaven commands her to free France from the English.
With its fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables, the French garden represented in the picture was painted from nature. In the distance we see a suggestion of the great forest in which Joan used to wander in solitude and prayer. A simple peasant girl, poorly dressed, there is little about her to please or attract us until we look at the eyes. Then we begin to understand why this picture is considered a masterpiece. Those great, far-seeing, melancholy eyes seem to look far beyond us, and their ecstatic gaze inspires us with some of that same confidence in her which so possessed her soldiers.
The vision which so inspired Joan is partly visible to us amid the tangle of the trees and shrubbery. The figures of the three saints silhouetted against the rude peasant hut add to the confusing details of the background, and yet by them our eyes are led back to the one restful part of the picture—Joan herself. She is not beautiful, only earnest and good, and we feel a great pity for this girl who is so soon to suffer a dreadful fate for an ungrateful king and people.
The sunlight falls full upon her face and outstretched arm. The curve of this arm harmonizes with the branches of the trees above, and her upright figure with the straight tree trunks. Her firm chin tells us something of the determination and courage which carried her through to the end.
We are told that she had a deep, strong voice which was capable of great sweetness, and that her honesty and goodness compelled the respect of even the rudest soldiers.
Questions to help the pupil understand the picture. Who was Joan of Arc? Why was she called "The Maid of Orleans"? Tell something of her life. In what country did she live? What were her duties? What education had she received? What washer nature? For what did she pray constantly? What vision did she have? What did her father say? How did the village people feel about it? Who helped her go to Prince Charles? How did the noble-man receive her at first? What were some of the difficulties of her journey? What did she do that made Prince Charles believe in her? How did Joan's coming affect the French soldiers? the English soldiers? Tell about the Siege of Orleans. When did Joan consider her work done? Why would not King Charles VII let her go home? What became of Joan? What has the artist represented Joan as doing in this picture? What vision appeared to her? What does she lean against? What else can you see in this garden? How does the tangled, somewhat confusing background bring out the figure of Joan? What kind of a voice had Joan? Why did all the soldiers respect her?
To the Teacher: Different pupils may be asked to study this lesson under the following topics :
I. Joan of Arc as Represented in History.
II. Joan of Arc as Represented in This Picture.
III. This Picture as True to History.
IV. This Picture as a Composition.
V. The Artist.
The story of the artist. Jules Bastien-Lepage was born in Damvillers, France. His parents were people of means, and as his father was an artist he received his first art instructions from him. As a young man Jules held a position in the post office, and his duties there kept him busy every morning. But all his afternoons were devoted to study under an artist who lived near by.
Then during the Franco-Prussian war he joined the army in the defense of Paris. He was never very strong, and the constant exposure and hardships forced him to return home on sick leave; that was the end of his experience as a soldier. His health somewhat recovered, he began painting in earnest. He desired above all things to be a great historical painter and, if possible, to paint these pictures at the very places where the historical events occurred.
He had a very fine studio fitted up on the second floor at home, but most of his painting was done out of doors.
We cannot read much of his life without finding some mention of his grandfather, for it was the old man's delight to work or sit beside his grandson while the young man was painting. The grandfather is usually described as wearing a brown skull cap and spectacles, and carrying his snuffbox and large checked hand-kerchief much in evidence. He took care of their garden and orchard, and one of the very first pictures Lepage painted that caused most favorable comment was a portrait of his grand-father in a corner of the garden. This picture, together with another of a young peasant girl, exhibited at the same time, marked the beginning of the artist's popularity.
Born in the same country as. Millet and like him understanding the religious enthusiasm and the superstitions of the peasants, we are not surprised that he should love to paint the French peasant and that Joan of Arc's life and history should have appealed to him so strongly. This subject had been a favorite theme for painters for several hundred years, and most of the artists had represented Joan as a saint or as a maid of great beauty. Lepage, how-ever, represented her as a simple peasant girl, dressed as such, and showing evidence in her face and her coarse hands of the rough farm work she had been doing.
This painting of Joan of Arc is considered the artist's masterpiece. Another noted picture by him is "The Hay Makers."
Bastien-Lepage became very popular indeed, and the people vied with each other to obtain his paintings and to get an opportunity to work in his studio. He worked very hard, and this, with the excitement of so much publicity, finally wore him out. He died at the age of thirty-six years.
Questions about the artist. Who painted this picture, and where was he born? Where is the original painting? Tell about Jules Bastien-Lepage and his early training. Why did he not remain in the army? What kind of a painter did he most desire to be? Where did he usually paint? Who went with him? Describe the old grandfather. What picture marked the beginning of the artist's popularity? Why did the life of Joan of Arc appeal to him so strongly? In what way did his representation of Joan differ from that of other artists?