The Joans of Frémiet

Shreya SrinathUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Joan of Arc Statue, Philidelphia

Symbolizing nationalism and military superiority, Joan of Arc is one of the greatest icons of French culture, and has therefore become the subject of intellectual and political thought and significant art and sculpture.  Among the socio-political uncertainty, the 100 Years War in the 15th century, Joan of Arc emerged as the image of stability. Credited with turning the tide of the 100 Years War in the favor of the French with her unusual battle strategies, Joan of Arc became the liberator of France after her death in 1429. This view was cemented during the Rehabilitation hearings of 1455, where she was declared to be a martyr and seen to be a victim of the oppression of the Church and nobility.

In 1871, Napoleon III commissioned a sculpture of Joan of Arc from Emmanuel Frémiet. As Frémiet was renowned for producing highly naturalistic bronze sculptures of animal, the sculpture of Joan of Arc depicted her heroically ridding into battle, waving her standard as she rode her horse. It was installed in Paris at the Place des Pyramides in 1874. The location was chosen because Joan was previously wounded during the Siege of Paris and miraculously healed, attributing to her myth as the messenger of God. The statue itself was meant to restore French morale following the crushing defeat in the third Franco-Prussian war in 1871, which lead to the unification of Germany at the Palace of Versailles, a humiliation remembered with vengeance among the French.

Frémiet was never satisfied with his work, nor were the Parisians, many of whom were upset that she was depicted in her battle armor as opposed to clothes more traditionally appropriate for a female. Frémiet also believed that the proportions were not to scale. When the City of Nancy requested a reproduction of the statue in 1899, Frémiet saw this as the perfect opportunity to readjust the statue. His reproduction therefore included a muzzle to hide the horse’s head and removing the harnesses around the rear. The same year, the statue in Paris was threatened by ongoing repairs to the street, allowing Frémiet to return the statue to his studio for protection. He took this opportunity to readjust the statue by making Joan 20 centimeters taller and made the horse’s neck thinner. He also changed the forehead and removed the rear harness, drawing more attention to the rider as opposed to the horse.

In 1899, the Fairmount Parks Association in the city of Philadelphia also commissioned a reproduction of the statue, which today stands in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The terms of the sale included that there would only be 3 original reproductions of the statue: Paris, Nancy and now Philadelphia. Any further statues would be understood as replicas. Thus, he supposedly melted down the original statue and placed the replica in Paris. Parisians only recognized the changes 4 years later, when Frémiet accepted the statue at Paris to be a replica as opposed to the original rendition. So, what happened to the original rendition?

Unknown to the world, Frémiet sold the original statue to the city of Philadelphia, where today she is lovingly referred to as “Joanie on a Pony.” Thus, centuries after her death, Joan of Arc traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and made her home in Philadelphia and Paris alike, capturing the attentions of artists and politicians, winning hearts everywhere she went.

In 1992, the statue was declared a historic monument in France and became the subject of various replicas across the world, including New Orleans, Portland and Melbourne. Through the work of Emmanuel Frémiet, Joan of Arc has multiple homes across the world and travels across oceans and national borders, and is recalled as the heroine of France, the Maid of Orléans.

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Shreya Srinath

Shreya Srinath is a junior at the State University of New York at Geneseo studying History. She is interested in post-colonialism and the cultural history of Europe, South East Asia and the Islamic World. Shreya has interned with several media platforms in India working on vocational education and skilled labor.

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