This impressive bronze equestrian sculpture of 15th century French patriot and martyr Joan of Arc (1411–1431) is one of the finest works of art in the Parks collection. Created by the eminent artist and art patron Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington (1876–1973), the piece was dedicated in 1915.
Jeanne La Pucelle, later known as Joan of Arc, was a peasant maiden said to have been divinely inspired to help liberate the French from English rule. Through her determination, she was able to gain an audience with the Dauphin of France, later to be King Charles VII, at the time when the city of Orleans was under siege. Charles appointed her commander-in-chief of a small provisional army, which under her inspired command forced the English to withdraw in 1429. With the siege lifted, the Dauphin was crowned in Reims Cathedral, with Joan seated in the place of honor next to him.
Though a popular figure, Joan was restrained by the new King from marching on Paris. In 1430, while conducting an unofficial campaign, she was captured by Burgundian soldiers at Compiegne, and sold to the English, who charged her with witchcraft and heresy. She was subjected to a long trial in a French ecclesiastical court presided over by the Bishop of Beauvais, and was eventually found guilty and condemned to death. On May 31, 1431, she was burned at the stake. Twenty years later an investigation into Joan’s trial proceedings led to the annulment of her sentence. On May 16, 1920, nearly 500 years later, Jeanne la Pucelle was canonized as Saint Joan by Pope Benedict XV.
The exploits of this heroine from the Middle Ages have been revisited by authors and artists ever since her death. Among the many notable works surrounding her myth are Mark Twain’s novel The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), a fictionalized account of her life, playwright George Bernard Shaw’s political play Saint Joan (1923), and Carl-Theodor Dryer’s landmark silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
In New York, a prominent group of citizens formed a Joan of Arc monument committee in 1909. Their efforts coincided with those of a young sculptor, Anna Hyatt Huntington, to create a sculpture of Joan. Her first version, in which she emphasized “the spiritual rather than the warlike point of view,” was submitted to the prestigious Salon in Paris. It received an honorable mention from the jury, nevertheless skeptical that such an accomplished work of art could have been made solely by a woman.
The New York monument committee, headed by J. Sanford Saltus, was so impressed by her work, that they awarded her the commission. Architect John van Pelt was retained to design the pedestal, which is made of Mohegan granite composed of Gothic-style blind arches, decorated with coats of arms. A few limestone blocks from the tower in Rouen where Joan of Arc had been imprisoned were incorporated into the base. Van Pelt situated the monument at the top of the steps in the park island at 93rd Street and Riverside, and had planted a screen of trees to disguise the buildings.
Huntington’s version is both heroic and infused with naturalistic detail. For Joan’s armor, she conducted research at the arms and armory division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the refinement of the equine anatomy was based on a horse borrowed from the fire department of her native town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her niece posed astride a barrel, as she modeled the figure, first nude, then in costume.
On December 6, 1915, the sculpture was unveiled in an elaborate ceremony, which included a military band and French Ambassador Jean J. Jusserand. Mrs. Thomas Alva Edison was among those selected to pull the cord that released the shroud. Huntington went on to have a long and illustrious career, and also sculpted the statue of the Cuban patriot, José Martí (1965), which stands at Central Park South and Avenue of the Americas. A replica of Joan of Arc stands in front of the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.
In 1939, Parks repaired Joan’s sword, which had been broken, repatined the bronze statue, and repaired the staircase. In 1987, the sculpture again underwent a full conservation financed by the Grand Marnier Foundation through the Municipal Art Society’s Adopt-A-Monument Program.
Joan of Arc Memorial Details
- Location: Riverside Drive at 93rd Street
- Sculptor: Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington
- Architect: John V. Van Pelt
- Description: Equestrian figure (over life-size) on integral plinth on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Mohegan granite
- Dimensions: Total H: 20'4" W: 6'1" D: 12'3"
- Cast: 1915
- Dedicated: December 6, 1915
- Donor: Joan of Arc Statue Committee
- Inscription: JOAN OF ARC / BORN AT / DOMREMY FRANCE / JANUARY 6TH,1411 / BURNED AT THE STAKE AT / ROUEN, FRANCE / MAY 30TH, 1431/
ERECTED BY / THE JOAN OF ARC STATUE COMMITTEE / IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK 1915.
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