Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc detail

January 1412: Birth of Joan  of Arc

Since I'm not religious, I'm not a soldier, I'm not a horseback rider, and I'm not French, you might wonder what it is that appeals to me about this statue of Joan of Arc.

 In a word: conviction. Even though I don't share her beliefs, her vocation or her nationality, it's wonderful to see absolute certainty paired with willingness to act. You can see it in her uplifted glance and her posture, in the way she raises her sword, stands in her stirrups and prepares to rush into battle. Statues of Joan at prayer have no effect on me. This one does.

 When you assume that only works of art reflecting your own philosophical and moral premises can give you a lift, you deprive yourself of a great deal of potentially inspiring art. A work of art doesn’t teach you what's right: it shows you what the artist considers important about man and the world. A sculpture such as Joan of Arc,showing that having strong values and acting on them is possible and good, can give you a tremendous emotional boost, even if you don't share Joan’s beliefs. A particularly good discussion on this topic is Dr. Leonard Peikoff's “The Survival Value of Great (Though Philosophically False) Art,” available here.

This sculpture was commissioned in 1914 to mark the five-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), and was dedicated in 1915. Since World War I had already begun, its unveiling was also treated as a salute to the spirit of France.

Anna Hyatt Huntington

 Hyatt (who later married Archer Huntington, heir to the Central Pacific Railroad fortune) had already made a name as an animalier - an artist specializing in animal figures. Here the wonderful lines of the muscular, spirited horse make an effective contrast to the diminutive figure of Joan, stiffly upright and encased from head to toe in plate armor, with  only her young, unlined face visible.

 For an equestrian statue by the same artist with a very different message, compare the statue of the Spanish medieval hero El Cid in the courtyard of the Hispanic Society of America, Broadway between 155th and 156th Streets.

 Anna and her husband, Archer Huntington, founded Brookgreen Sculpture Gardens in Murrells Inlet, S.C., which remains America's largest outdoor sculpture garden, displaying only representational sculpture. If you like the sculptures on this site, make a point of visiting Brookgreen.

Further reading