Remarkable Women: The Life and Times of Baroque Painter Artemisia Gentileschi (Part 2)

“My illustrious lordship, I’ll show you what a woman can do.” ~ Artemisia Gentileschi

Not long after her wedding to Pietro Antonio di Vicenzo Stiattesi in Rome on 29th November 1612, Artemisia and her husband moved to Florence; where, armed with a letter of introduction from her father, she began her career as a professional painter.  It proved to be a successful and fruitful time in her life, (she certainly deserved some good fortune after the traumatic events in Rome as a young woman).

Self-portrait as a Lute Player c. 1615 - 17 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Self-portrait as a Lute Player c. 1615 – 17 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Florence and the Medici Court

Soon after arriving in Florence the ambitious Artemisia landed a commission from Michelango the Younger, great nephew of the Renaissance icon. She painted a panel, the Allegory of Inclination, for the Galleria of his Casa Buonarroti.

Artemisia Gentileschi - Allegory of Inclination

Artemisia set about educating herself in the spheres of music and literature, employing her beauty and charm to impress the wealthy merchants and nobles of Florence, with the aim of ingratiating herself with the powerful, dynastic Medici Court.

She understood that the appropriate appearance would elevate her position, so she wore expensive silk gowns which she managed to purchase on credit. She gave it some good, old fashioned hustle!

Saint Cecilia Playing a Lute by Artemisia Gentileschi

Saint Cecilia Playing a Lute by Artemisia Gentileschi

After all the struggle of her painful last year in Rome she had earned some success.

Her living was made mostly by painting commissions from wealthy patrons and for Grand Duke Cosimo II de’ Medici and Grand Duchess Christina. She was friends with Galileo Galilei – excerpts from her letters to the astronomer, physicist and philosopher still exist.

Tragedy, however, would strike again in her life. The first three of her babies with her husband Pietro did not survive infancy, and her fourth, a daughter, was named Prudentia after her deceased mother. Like her father had done with her, Artemisia taught her to paint.

She eventually left her husband in 1620 after financial problems arose, returning to Rome in 1621. She spent a decade travelling Europe, painting in Genoa, Venice and England (where she was reunited with her father at the court of Charles I), before settling permanently in Naples.

A View of the Bay of Naples by Giovanni Battista Lusieri

A View of the Bay of Naples by Giovanni Battista Lusieri

Before the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century, Naples came under Spanish rule when it was the largest commercial, cultural city on the Mediterranean. In Artemisia’s day it was three times the size of Rome. She spent the last years of her life in Naples and continued painting into her sixties. She taught male students and collaborated with other painters during this time.

Judith and Holofernes

The biblical story from the Book of Judith tells of how the beautiful Israelite widow Judith bravely slays the Assyrian General, Holofernes, in order to save the people of her homeland, (the city of Bethulia). It proved a popular subject in Renaissance and Baroque art.

In return for sparing her life and that of her family, Judith had promised Holofernes a secret route into the city in an act of apparent betrayal. Due to his desire for her he admitted her to his tent and gave her free access to the Assyrian camp. Being Jewish, Judith would have taken her own food with her and perhaps a maidservant.

Thinking that his personal conquest of Judith is assured, Holofernes lets down his guard and drinks himself into a stupor. As he sleeps, Judith summons up her courage to decapitate him using his sword. The two women put his head in a sack and sneak out of the camp. The next morning, as the head of Holofernes is displayed on the battlements and the rest of his body is discovered, his men flee, having lost their leader and, quite literally, head of the army.

The chaste Judith ( a female version of David and Goliath), is victorious and has been depicted many times as the triumph of virtue overcoming vice, chastity overcoming lust and humility overcoming pride.

With her penchant for painting  powerful women: heroines of immense strength and courage, imbued with a healthy dose of vulnerability, it’s no surprise that she painted four canvases of Judith and Holofernes.

Of all the paintings and sculptures that were created by artists of the era, (including Caravaggio), to me, hers are the most violent, visceral and real.  The graphic violence of Artemisia’s depictions is staggering when compared to the more sanitised versions (except maybe Caravaggio), considering the other artists were all men.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1614-18. Pitti Palace Florence

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1620 -21. Uffizi Gallery Florence

When I look at the Florence painting it shows me rage. Pure, unadulterated rage and it’s horrible to look at. It’s as if she has transferred all her anger towards Agostino Tassi and the suffering she endured from inquisition style torture at the hands of the ‘establishment’, and laid it bare for people to witness hundreds of years after her brush covered the canvas.

It is similar in composition to Caravaggio’s version painted earlier in 1599, but in Caravaggio’s Judith is somewhat detached from her grisly deed, whereas in Artemisia’s paintings she’s putting all her physical effort and force into her unpleasant task. The look on Holofernes’s face (or is it Agostino’s face?) is chilling.  Certainly Judith is a self-portrait of Artemisia.

The injustice she felt and the cruelty she experienced is expressed through her art. Artemisia put herself into her work, and her art speaks to me as a woman.  Art historians might disagree with me, but that’s my humble opinion.

Her earlier painting of Judith Beheading Holofernes (where she is wearing a blue dress) shows the pure horror of her act: there is blood seeping into the mattress and spurting everywhere, but she is determined to kill Holofernes and thus eradicate tyranny.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1611-12. Commissioned by the King of Naples now haning in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples.

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1611-12. Commissioned by the King of Naples now hanging in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.

The other two pictures of the aftermath, where the head of Holofernes is being placed in a basket/bag are equally arresting. Again, there are many versions by different artists, and even compared to one by her father, Orazio, Artemisia’s 1625 version (now in the Detroit Institute of Art) has a sense of realism that makes your hairs stand on end.

Judith with the Head of Holofernes c. 1625

Judith with the Head of Holofernes c. 1625

The golden silk sheen of Judith’s dress is almost luminescent under the flame, and her skin glows in the candlelight in comparison to the pervading darkness inside the tent. This shade of yellow has been labelled as ‘Artemisia Gold’.

It’s as though, having done her deed, Judith and her maidservant pause as they hear a sound outside the tent. Discovery would have meant certain death, so the two women are momentarily still, not yet able to make their escape. It’s claustrophobic, dramatic and totally brilliant!

Judith and her Maidservant by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1612-13. Housed in the Pitti Palace, Florence

Judith and her Maidservant by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1612-13. Housed in the Pitti Palace, Florence

Other paintings

Here is a selection of her heroines and biblical characters, proving that she didn’t just do gore and slaughter!

Clio the Muse of History c. 1632 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Clio the Muse of History c. 1632 by Artemisia Gentileschi

The Birth of St. John the Baptist by Artemisia Gentileschi. Commissioned by Philip IV of Spain

The Birth of St. John the Baptist by Artemisia Gentileschi. Commissioned by Philip IV of Spain

Danaë by Artemisia Gentileschi

Danaë by Artemisia Gentileschi

Esther_before_Ahasuerus c. 1628 - 35 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Esther before Ahasuerus c. 1628 – 35 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Lot and his Daughters by Artemisia Gentileschi

Lot and his Daughters by Artemisia Gentileschi

Sleeping Venus by Artemisia Gentileschi

Sleeping Venus by Artemisia Gentileschi

Lucretia c. 1620 -21 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Lucretia c. 1620 -21 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Cleopatra by Artemisia Gentileschi

Cleopatra by Artemisia Gentileschi

Jael and Sisera c. 1620 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Jael and Sisera c. 1620 by Artemisia Gentileschi

The Penitent Mary Magdalen c. 1615 - 16 by Artemisia Gentileschi

The Penitent Mary Magdalen c. 1615 – 16 by Artemisia Gentileschi

Although there were other notable baroque women painters, I feel it is Artemisia who suffered and struggled the most for her art, who laid down the gauntlet to the male art establishment that said, “I’m as good as any of you.” Art was very much a gentleman’s club in the baroque era, and Artemisia soon discovered that they weren’t all gentlemen either!

She was an artist with an edge, certainly living on it most of the time. Her work has such a robust and natural quality, and perhaps her infamous status after the rape trial set her apart as a bit of a curiosity, freeing her up to create such incredible works without the usual constraints that women of the time lived within.

Her early trauma seems to have been the catalyst for her career. I don’t think she would have made such an impact as an artist without the emotional intensity behind her painting.

Portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1623 - 26 by Simon Vouet

Portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1623 – 26 by Simon Vouet

She and I would have had quite a bit in common, (centuries, circumstances and talents notwithstanding). Being as I can’t have a conversation with her, the next best thing is to admire her art and study her life. She deserves to be remembered.

Remarkable Women: The Life and Times of Baroque Painter Artemisia Gentileschi (Part 1)

“I have made a solemn vow never to send my drawings because people have cheated me. In particular, just today I found…that, having done a drawing of souls in Purgatory for the Bishop of St. Gata, he, in order to spend less, commissioned another painter to do the painting using my work. If I were a man, I can’t imagine it would have turned out this way.” ~ Artemisia Gentileschi (from a letter to patron Don Antonio Ruffo, November 13, 1649.)

From what I have gleaned in my research and seen with my own eyes of her paintings; Artemisia Gentileschi was a strong, spirited, determined, talented, fearless and voluptuous artist; who possessed bright, fierce eyes that communicate her emotions from her canvases. In pigment she exudes a powerful energy that is completely captivating. In real life she must have been a force of nature!

Artemisia Gentileschi (8th July 1583 – 1656)

Much of her work has been lost, sidelined and misattributed through the centuries, but has recently been restored, revered and rightly honoured.

Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting by Artemisia Gentileschi. Thought to have been in the collection of Charles I.

Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) by Artemisia Gentileschi, circa 1638-9, commissioned by Charles I in London. It is now housed in Hampton Court Palace.

If ever there was a body of work that deserved the mantle of ‘art imitating life’ it was hers.

She painted mostly biblical scenes and heroines – strong female protagonists from history and mythology, in a way that was natural and worthy of a Caravaggista.

She truly mastered the Baroque painting technique developed by Caravaggio, known as chiaroscuro, in which light and shadow are sharply contrasted. Only a heroine could have done that…

What she achieved as an artist of the post Renaissance era in a heavily male dominated field (only seven percent of the self-portraits by western art’s most revered masters hanging on the walls of the Vasari Corridor are by women), is just astounding. There were so many obstacles to her success and although she is one of history’s most accomplished female artists of the baroque period, she was never recognised as much as she deserved to be in her lifetime.

The Vasari Corridor running from the Uffizi Gallery on the right, turning into the Ponte Vecchio Bridge to join the Palazzo Pitti.

The Vasari Corridor running from the Uffizi Gallery on the right, turning into the Ponte Vecchio Bridge to join the Palazzo Pitti.

Alas, the stories of many great painters, writers, poets, sculptors and composers share this unfair narrative arc of neglect, both male and female.

“Artemisia has suffered a scholarly neglect that is unthinkable for an artist of her calibre.” ~ Art Historian Mary D Garrard

Artemisia Gentileschi’s childhood and teenage years

Born on 8th July 1593 in Rome to a well-known, established painter, Orazio Gentileschi and his wife, Prudentia Montone, Artemisia grew up being greatly influenced by her father’s trade. At that time in history it would have been impossible for a young girl to receive training in the arts, unless from a parent. She would have learnt to draw, mix paints and watch her father painting in his studio from a very early age.

Young woman playing a violin by Orazio Gentileschi - obviously a very good likeness of his beloved daughter - Artemisia Gentileschi!

Young woman playing a violin by Orazio Gentileschi – obviously a remarkable resemblance of his beloved daughter – Artemisia Gentileschi!

Her mother died in childbirth when Artemisia was just twelve years old, leaving her with her father and in the role of surrogate mother to her three younger brothers. No easy task at the same time as dealing with her own grief.

I love the fact that her father (who was a friend and follower of Caravaggio and Tenebrism), admired her talent regardless of her gender, with no regard for his ego, stating that he could teach her no longer when she turned 15. He then turned to another painter to continue her tutelage.

Rome, although home to the Pope and The Vatican was far from being pure and sin free. After the sun’s pink and orange hues faded from the sky above its historic spires, statues and domed rooftops, its illustrious streets witnessed many deeds of depravity, when parts of the city transformed into a cesspool of vice and crime.

Criminals were swiftly dealt with, (usually on the Piazza di Ponte), where public executions and beheadings were common.  The bodies of these unfortunate souls were left exposed to passers by on the Ponte Sant’ Angelo. It was noted that on such occasions the waters of the Tiber ran red…

Ponte Sant' Angelo, Rome

Ponte Sant’ Angelo, Rome

Orazio Gentileschi was understandably keen to protect his only daughter from such goings on; she was vulnerable until she could marry.  Seventeenth Century Italy was very much a patriarchal society where women were often either classed as virtuous or sinful. If a woman lost her virginity outside of marriage (and therefore her reputation), it frequently led to a life of prostitution.

It seems that despite his best intentions for his daughter, Artemisia’s father unwittingly played a hand in one of the most traumatic experiences of her life when she was eighteen years old.

Rape of Artemisia Gentileschi by Agostino Tassi (1578 – 1644)

Agostino Tassi, self-portrait

Agostino Tassi, self-portrait

As Orazio had worked with a painter of frescoes, Agostino Tassi, at the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi in Rome, he trusted him to further Artemisia’s training. At the time of the rape (in spring of 1611), with his wife missing, assumed dead, Tassi struck.

One afternoon during one of Artemisia’s lessons, Tassi’s lechery turned into a sexual assault when he accosted Artemisia in her father’s studio. She fled upstairs in an attempt to escape but he followed her, forced her into the bedroom and raped her.

Sadly, the only other woman in her life, a family friend Tuzia, who rented an apartment at the premises did not come to her aid.

Not only was this a traumatic physical and emotional experience (one that she initially kept from her father), but it spelled disaster for her reputation and marriage prospects. It is thought that Tassi promised he would marry her and she had no choice but to accept. Under that expectation and agreement they had sexual relations for a further year, until it emerged that Tassi’s wife was actually still alive (it was rumoured he had hired men to kill her).

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Orazio Gentileschi, who was outraged that his daughter’s purity (and therefore prospects) had been violated by a trusted friend without the promised restoration to his family’s honour. He duly launched court proceedings against the scoundrel Tassi in 1612.

Portrait of Orazio Gentileschi by Giovanni Battista Cecchi, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Line engraving, possibly late 18th century

Portrait of Orazio Gentileschi by Giovanni Battista Cecchi, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Line engraving, possibly late 18th century currently held by the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The case was unprecedented, and with his daughter’s character in tatters through no fault of her own, Orazio wrote to Pope Paul V (who unfortunately was a patron of Tassi’s), to claim reparation for such a wrongdoing to their family name.

He may have been a talented artist, but Agostino Tassi was no gentleman. He was a serial liar, a serial rapist (having also defiled his own sister-in-law) stolen a painting from Orazio’s studio, as well as planning the murder of his wife. The kind of person we might label today as a low-life scumbag!

There would have been no counselling and support for the victim of this sordid affair, Artemisia herself. It must have been a very confusing, frightening and terrible time for her under such an intense spotlight in court and as a subject of notoriety in the gossip circles of Rome.

What follows is a graphic extract recorded by a court notary during the trial in Rome, where Artemisia describes the moment of the rape. The ancient transcriptions of the case are held at the Rome State Archive:

“I felt a strong burning and it hurt very much, but because he held my mouth, I couldn’t cry out. However, I tried to scream as best I could, calling Tuzia. I scratched his face and pulled his hair, and before he penetrated me again I grasped his penis so tight that I even removed a piece of flesh. All this didn’t bother him at all, and he continued to do his business.” ~ Artemisia Gentileschi.

Throughout the trial Artemisia was subjected to horrific examinations and torture with instruments such as the thumbscrew, which strongly shaped her psychological development and her future artwork.

Susanna and the Elders

Artemisia_Gentileschi - Susanna_and_the_Elders_(1610)

Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi circa 1610

Only a year earlier at the age of seventeen she had completed her version of Susanna and The Elders, circa 1610, one of the few paintings of this biblical subject that portrays Susanna with her head turned away from the advances of the men, with body language and an expression indicating their approach is unwelcome.  The female form (possibly based on her own), is more natural rather than idealised. Somehow, it seems to have been an inauspicious omen of the event that would take place on the Gentileschi premises in the spring of 1611.

Paintings of Susanna and the Elders (Book of Daniel) by Bernadino Luini, Jacob van Loo, Ottavio Leoni, Hendrick Goltzius, Antonio Bellucci, Bonaventura Lamberti, Guido Reni, Tintoretto, Alessandro Allori, Rembrandt van Rijn, Gerrit van Honthorst, Pieter Pietersz, Bartolomeo Chiari, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Massimo Stanzione, Claude Vignon, von Hagelstein, Sebastiano Ricci, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens, Anthony van Dyck, Sisto Badalocchio, Jean-Francois de Troy, Salomon Koninck, Frances Trevisiani, Lambert Sustris, Andrea Vaccaro, Hendrick de Clerk, Paolo Veronese, Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri and Orazio Gentileschi have Susanna facing the men (fully or partially) and do not depict the same level of distress and unwillingness.

Susanna and the Elders by Orazio Gentileschi

Susanna and the Elders by Orazio Gentileschi

Susanna and the Elders by Peter Paul Rubens, also painted in 1610

Susanna and the Elders by Peter Paul Rubens, also painted in 1610

Susanna and the Elders by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari

Susanna and the Elders by Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari

Eventually Tassi was found guilty and sentenced to prison and exile, neither of which he fully served. Artemisia on the other hand, was viewed as damaged goods, but her father (with the help of a substantial dowry), found her a husband, a Florentine artist, the younger brother of the lawyer that had helped him during the lengthy court case against Agostino Tassi.

Despite these considerable challenges, Artemisia managed to pick herself up, ditch her victim mantle and find solace and cathartic expression in her work.

Artemisia Gentilschi quote

In part 2 we’ll look in more detail at her paintings – you’ll notice that many of them are shockingly violent for a female artist – even to our more exposed, desensitized eyes of the twenty first century!

#MondayBlogs – Remarkable Women: The Life and Times of Joan of Arc

“I am not afraid… I was born to do this.”  ~ Jeanne d’Arc

This will be the first in a series of posts exploring the impact on the world of remarkable women.

Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch. This painting could be the ruest likeness of her, as she had short, dark hair, cut in a round style.

Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch. This painting could be the truest likeness of her, as she had short, dark hair, cut in a round style just above her ears.

So often we celebrate men’s amazing achievements, but there have also been many women throughout history who have made remarkable contributions that have continued way beyond their life spans. They have become iconic. Their actions reflect the epitome of the virtues we aspire to today: honesty, commitment, integrity, courage and service to others.

Jeanne d’Arc (6 January 1412 – 30 May 1431)

Five hundred and eighty five years ago, on this very day, a loyal and brave maiden was burned alive at the stake in the old market square of Rouen.

Joan of Arc at the stake by Jules Eugène Lenepveu.

Joan of Arc at the stake by Jules Eugène Lenepveu.

At the age of nineteen Joan suffered a hideous, unthinkable death, which ultimately secured her place in history and cost the English their goal of the French crown.

A fitting finale with Irina Arkhipova as Joan in Tchaikovsky’s opera The Maid of Orleans:

The aftermath of Joan’s death

The young English King Henry VI’s uncle, the Duke of Bedford, who was acting as his Regent, and who had held Philip the Good to their Anglo-Burgundian contract passed away on 16th September 1435.

With his last breath, so too passed the loyalty that the Burgundian Duke had kept since he signed the Treaty of Troyes to align the Burgundians with King Henry V of England on 21st May 1420, which granted Henry’s marriage to Queen Isabeau and King Charles VI’s daughter, Catherine of Valois and ensured his heirs inherited the Crown of France, instead of Charles VI’s son, Charles VII.

His signing had been an act of hatred and revenge against the Armagnacs, who had murdered of his Father, John the Fearless of Burgundy, on the bridge at Montereau in 1419.

Joan of Arc by Harold Piffard

Joan of Arc by Harold Piffard

Diplomacy continued for a further four years after Joan’s execution, but Cardinal Niccolo Albergati, who was despatched by the Pope to broker peace at the Congress of Arras, (in the face of English opposition), absolved Philip the Good from his war promised treaty and brokered a peace settlement between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, thus making a significant impact towards ending the Hundred Years War.

I’m convinced her martyrdom was the catalyst in the change of fortune for France, King Charles VII and his Armagnac supporters.

Joan of Arc Insulted in Prison, c. 1866 (oil on canvas) by Patrois, Isidore (1811-84) Musee des Beaux-Arts, France Giraudon French, out of copyright

Joan of Arc Insulted in Prison, c. 1866 (oil on canvas) by Patrois, Isidore 
Musee des Beaux-Arts, France

She has captured my imagination, earned my admiration and compassion, and ignited my interest in her life and into a window of history that still dominates literature, the world of art, film and popular culture today.

A moving video of her home in Domremy:

As far as I’m concerned there are no women who deserve this accolade more than Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage

Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage

She was born to a humble farming family in Domremy in rural Alsace, daughter to Jacques and Isabelle, sister to Jacquemin, Jean and Pierre, during the vicious acrimony that pervaded the land in 1400’s France; an inheritance of the bitter dispute between the younger brother of the king, Louis, Duke of Orléans and his cousin, John the Fearless of Burgundy.

Louis was against John’s regency and guardianship of his brother’s children in the face of King Charles VI’s unfortunate insanity, which caused a deep schism between two royal and noble houses of France, and eventually led to his assassination by the Burgundians in November 1407 on the streets of Paris.

From then on the Armagnacs, (supporters of Charles, Duke of Orléans and the Burgundians, supporters of John’s son Philip the Good) became enemies, which had a profound effect on the course of the Hundred Years War.

Joan of Arc at Domremy

With France torn apart by divided loyalties and rapacious greed for her crown, at the age of thirteen Joan began to see visions of Saint Michael and hear voices, directing her to secure the French crown for the disinherited Dauphin, Charles.  After convincing Charles and his court that she had been sent by the King of Heaven in his cause, she led an army to rescue Orléans from English occupation.

Siege of Orléans

After six months of siege, the arrival of Joan, her captains, and their Armagnac army meant that the townsfolk finally had hope that Orléans would be freed from the grip of the English and their Captain Sir William Glasdale.

Joan of Arc riding into Orleans by Jean-Jacques Scherrer

Joan of Arc riding into Orleans by Jean-Jacques Scherrer

In just four days, suffering with a flesh injury between her shoulder and neck, and with the help of the local carpenters as their attack progressed, Joan had saved the Loire, secured freedom for the jubilant people of Orléans, and caused the ignominious, hasty retreat of Lords Suffolk, Talbot and Graves. With her her swift and decisive victory in the kingdom of Bourges it seemed that God had vindicated the legitimacy of King Charles’s cause.

Trailer to Luc Besson’s 1999 film, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

Jeanne d’Arc achieved the impossible. Of course she didn’t do it on her own, but her unshakable belief, oratory and unfaltering courage inspired others to follow and serve. She is the subject of so much literature, having already inflamed the imaginations of the likes of Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Tchaikovsky and Leonard Cohen.

The birth of feminism

There were many firsts with Joan. Could she have been the very first feminist? She rebelled against the expected norms of her gender in 15th century France, where women were seen and not heard, robed and displayed for brave knights to fight for, breeding vessels that were traded in marriage among the nobility – trophies. Their choices were non-existent or very limited.

Shock, horror, Joan wore pants! Not only that, she became a soldier! Imagine being the first in a continent to go against the grain of centuries of ingrained culture, repression and strict religious dogma.

Jeanne d'Arc at the Siege of Orleans

Jeanne d’Arc at the Siege of Orleans

After Joan’s victory at Orléans, the French scholar and theologian, Jean Gerson, applied what was known as the discernment of spirits, to justify her masculine attire during the battle. He claimed that although the Old Testament prohibited it, the New Testament did not, and her circumstances as a warrior surrounded by men made it necessary to do so. Therefore, her male dressing deed ‘was done by God’.

Having read about her exploits thanks to the brilliant historian, Helen castor, and from Joan herself, (In Her Own Words), I felt so angry that the French court didn’t continue to heed her advice. Their actions left her and her men vulnerable, and led to the circumstances of her capture by the Burgundians near Compiègne.

The capture of Joan of Arc by Alexandre Dillens

The capture of Joan of Arc by Alexandre Dillens

In my continuing research I found it helpful to write a dramatic monologue poem, I wanted to put myself in her shoes. Spare a thought today for one who paid the highest price anyone could pay for their faith and love.

The Maid of Heaven:

The English and Burgundians slandered me a sinner,

Their prized prisoner: the Armagnac whore and heretic.

Many hailed me a saint, when my predictions came to pass;

Only after my death, my chastity, never lost, was restored,

Restitution was made to my virtuous reputation,

Half a century passed, before my Sainthood was bestowed.

But the truth is this; I was simply a devout servant;

I listened to, and obeyed our Holy Father,

In my mission to save the most Christian Kingdom: France.

I was known as ‘Jeanette’ in my home town, Domremy,

I span thread with my mother, herded cattle with my father.

The church bells called me to prayer. I was happy

But a country life was not my destiny.

Voices told me to ensure the dauphin was crowned at Reims

With the protective escort of Captain Robert de Baudricourt

I travelled from Vaucouleurs to the royal court at Chinon and Poitiers,

There, scholars and learned men interrogated me…

How could a peasant girl save them?

My virginity was questioned and confirmed, I am intact.

Was I really sent by God?

Could I deliver France from the grip of endless war?

I told them, I am succour for a wounded and betrayed people.

Pitiable suffering, wrought from years of starvation and violence;

Cursed by changing loyalties and treaties carving up the Kingdom,

They suffered greatly for the sake of greed and power.

The holy kingdom of France; having been lost by a woman,

When Regent Queen Isabeau signed her son, the Dauphin

Charles, out of his kingly inheritance, in treachery at Troyes,

I would save as a Virgin; pure in heart, mind and body.

In order to do God’s work, I became the warrior maid,

I was sent by my right and sovereign Lord,

To deliver my King and France from their enemies

I was the Lord’s vessel of choice to chase out the English,

To fulfil this promise I could not be myself…

I had to discard the flowing garments of my femininity,

A shocking, taboo act; forbidden to my fair sex.

Red woollen dress replaced by hose and doublet;

Glossy, lustrous black hair, levelled from shoulders to ears.

None were more determined than I,

As I rode into battle, firm on my steed,

Encased and shielded in a suit of gleaming silver.

I am neither male nor female, but a symbol of hope!

Under my command the men did not rape and pillage,

They would not utter foul, coarse words, or kill unjustly.

‘La Pucelle’ became my sobriquet.

The gentle and grateful folk of Orleans never forgot

The miraculous salvation of their city under siege.

English Lords hurled insults as well as canon,

But this trollop would not go back to herding cattle!

It did them no good. My soldiers and I drove them out.

As promised, my war-cry will be remembered forever…

I proudly held St. Catherine’s saintly sword,

Found where she directed me, rusting in her chapel at Fierbois,

My white, silken banner flapping and flying in the wind

With alacrity I undertook my difficult but divine calling,

My loyal squire, Jean d’Aulon, ever at my side, so too

My captains La Hire, Alencon, the Bastard of Orléans and Xaintrailles

The Dauphin and his nobles believed in our just and holy cause,

But after our victories at Orléans, Jargeau, Patay and Meung,

Came wintry defeat at Paris, La Charité and Compiègne;

Pulled reluctantly away from the assault of Paris, was I;

Screaming and bleeding with an arrow piercing my thigh.

Endless diplomacy and delays lost our glorious momentum

My faithful voices and counsel thus went unheeded.

I continued in my mission, until that fateful day, 23rd May 1430

Cut off from Compiegne, Jean de Luxembourg captured me,

The kindness of his Burgundian ladies could not allay my fears.

So for once I shunned and ignored my faithful voices,

I flung myself from the stone tower at Beaurevoir.

Injured and recaptured, shame burned my soul,

My bid for freedom failed.  No ransom forthcoming from my King,

Instead, for 10,000 livres I was sold to my mortal enemy.

Their hatred for me was born of fear and defeat;

I would be treated badly in a prison guarded by men.

They transported me to Rouen, Warwick’s stronghold in Normandy

My voices told me to be strong, even in frail form.

Duke Philip asserted with smug authority, that my

Capture gave the Burgundians incontrovertible proof,

That my claim to act on heaven’s behalf was indeed false;

My trial was arduous, torturous, iniquitous and full of enmity.

Stultified was I, by leering eyes and jeering mouths.

A mere maiden bearing humiliation for her kingdom,

It seemed I had been abandoned by all,

To the pious and ruthless Pierre Cauchon;

Ever zealous in his quest to declare me an apostate.

He and his cowardly politicians, relentless, asking:

Would I submit to the Holy Mother Church?

Would I renounce my sins?

I told them I would submit to the Holy Father,

Under duress and endless repetition, I told them of my mission.

Puppet of the English, Bishop of Beauvais and his judges,

Most unholy men, they said I was guided by demons,

An idolater I was branded.

Under torture they coerced my abjuration at Saint-Ouen

No more anguish could I feel, than to reject my sovereign Lord,

And all I had accomplished under his command.

No amount of false accusations, fetters, hunger, derision and

Gnarled, groping hands could further assail my spirit.

Even under threat I became the warrior maid once more,

My faith ameliorated at the close of my trial.

I remain vociferous to the task entrusted to me,

Unjust sentence justified in lengthy Latin parchments

That canon law has written to satisfy the English.

Under ecclesiastical waxy stamp my fate was sealed.

Perhaps my death was always required…

Charles has been anointed with the holy oil of Clovis

Phillip the Good, Burgundian adversary, will surely seek peace,

And the English contagion will be expelled across the water,

Whimpering; with their tails between their legs.

Their child King Henry VI, like his Most Beloved grandfather Charles,

Has no stomach for war, strife of Roses on his doorstep.

One fine day, a unified France will remember me.

They will say that Jeannne d’Arc did her duty,

A simple, brave, devout and innocent girl,

Whose courage and vision shaped the mighty realm.

The interrogation of Joan of Arc by Paul Delaroche c. 1824

The interrogation of Joan of Arc by Paul Delaroche c. 1824

I gasped my last mortal breaths on a rickety bumpy cart,

Carrying me through the narrow streets of Rouen,

Faces peering from open windows in tall, timber houses,

The spring air thick with expectation and hatred

Then mercilessly I was bound to the stake,

My pale, cold feet planted on the pyre.

Brother Pierre, holding a cross for my last prayer

The spectacle of my cruel execution

Brought tears to the hostile crowd,

They who would witness fire and flame

And see the orange dance engulf my flesh,

Consuming me with voracious hunger. In agony

I cried out: Jhesus! Jhesus!

Death has stolen my breath, liberated my soul.

They may blacken my body, but not my memory;

It is not enough that milky skin is seared and charred

Beyond recognition. They want annihilation, not relics.

They may scatter my earthly ashes over the Seine,

To be drowned in the cool blue depths,

But my legacy cannot be destroyed.

It lives and breathes in the fabric of French history,

In the hearts and minds of all those I fought for;

They could not strike my deeds from the story books.

Court clerk, Guillaume Manchon has testified to my purity

And now, what was once sullied is cleansed, nullified,

My name is again revered!

Faith, love and courage kept me company for 19 earthly years

I now abide in paradise for all eternity,

For I am the Maid of Heaven…

By Virginia Burges

Joan of Arc at the stake by Francois Chifflart

Joan of Arc at the stake by Francois Chifflart

“When we take your person into account, you who are a young maiden, to whom God gives the strength and power to be the champion who casts the rebels down and feeds France with the sweet, nourishing milk of peace, here indeed is something quite extraordinary!” ~ Christine de Pizan, (Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc)