600 years ago this year, Joan of Arc was born in a small town in France. Little did her parents realize that she would become one of the most famous women in all of human history. What makes this more remarkable is that her deeds span just two short years, from the arrival at the court of Charles VI at age 17 to her martyrdom at the burning stake in 1431. Her military campaign against the English and Burgundians encompassed just a single year!
What makes Joan interesting for me is not just her deeds in unifying her countrymen, but also her integrity as a person of belief, strength and drive. As the father of two girls, I relish the chance to point to such role models and state 'See what you can do?!'
The desire to create a work of art about Joan has been playing itself out periodically in my sketchbook ever since a visit to France over a decade ago (Thank you Wizards of the Coast for sending me to exotic realms to sign at Magic tournaments!) Thus when we were preparing to create another step by step film on my painting process back in May, the subject of Joan of Arc was front and center as the number one choice for the painting. Really there wasn't even a runner up - I know it had to be a work on the Maid of Orleans.
From the very beginning I wanted to create a work which illuminated the complexities of the politics into which Joan was cast. It was a turbulent time in France in the early 15th Century, Henry the V has just decimated the French at Agincourt and King Charles was one of the weakest rulers in decades. The identity of a French nation was still not solidified with the Burgundians casting their lot with the English. The Church felt threatened from the new nation states and were ever watchful for heretical movements which could undermine its authority. How to put all that into one painting?
You can't, but you can suggest what might be at play.
I am happy to announce that I have posted the results to my website and have included a few extra progress shots and details of the work here. As I have done in recent works for commercial commissions, it was my intent to use ambiguity to stress the complexities of the political forces which shaped Joan of Arc.
Are we here at her moment of triumph at Orleans embraced by a sympathetic French Nobleman? Or at her capture outside of Compiegne a little over a year later by the Burgundians? Is the Clergyman bowing in awe and prayer, or attempting to strip Joan of the symbol of her Faith? Is that arm supporting the banner, or pulling it down?
As the artist, even I do not know the answers, as we may never know the intent of others. All we may do is act upon our own beliefs in what we feel is right:
One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.
Joan of Arc
For those of you interested in the documentary DVD, It covers everything from the initial abstract sketches to the final oil glazes. Aaron Fagerstrom, who shot and edited my first documentary, The Mechanic, also created this film. I could not be more please with his efforts - from the cinematography, editing, pacing, sound mixing and music selection his skills have grow tremendously!
Happy Birthday Joan!