Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pre-Raphaelite Joan of Arc

In the 19th century in France Joan of Arc converted into a national hero fighting for the liberty of her country, which means she became the ancestor, the great grandmother of all patriots. In other countries she became popular too, even in England the homeland of her former enemies. But there her militant and patriotic aspects never reached great importance. There artists were much more interested in the devoted young woman. To the romantics united in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood she seemed to have been a kind of female Percival on his quest for the Holy Grail.

Joan of Arc (1863) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Joan of Arc (1865) by John Everett Millais (1829–1896)

Joan of Arc (early 20th century) by Annie Louisa Swynnerton (1844-1933)

It’s evident that in the focusing on the religious aspect these English romantics are abandoning the traditional history painting approaching instead the style of altarpieces.


  1. Did they abandon traditional history painting?

    I am certain that Oxford University had a strong connection to the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Ruskin, Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Morris studied there, presumably imbibing inspiration from the medieval colleges and perhaps from the Oxford Movement. It is probably through Rossetti's devotional poetry that we can best understand the link between the Brotherhood and the Oxford Movement.

    Rossetti's first Pre-Raphaelite paintings in oils were based on religious themes and with elements of mystical symbolism. Including John Everett Millais, the original Pre-Raphaelites sought to revitalise art by emphasising the detailed observation of the natural world in a spirit of quasi-religious devotion to truth. This religious approach was influenced by the spiritual qualities of medieval art, in opposition to the alleged rationalism of the Renaissance embodied by, for example, Raphael. Certainly it was with his religious paintings that Hunt became famous eg The Light of the World. And even more so, after his travels around the Holy Land.

    Yet after 1850, both Holman Hunt and Millais moved away from direct imitation of medieval art (and religion). Both stressed the realist and scientific aspects of the movement. And later members of the Brotherhood even more so!

  2. Thanks for the extensive comment.
    Millais continued with history painting, but Rossetti aproached a kind of "pre-Symbolism".
    Anyway I cannot consider the examples above as typical "history paintings".