Art History History Painting

History Painting: ‘Capture of Joan of Arc’ by Adolf-Alexander Dillens, circa 1850.

You’ve all heard of the story of France’s national heroine, nicknamed ‘The maid of Orleans’ and how she rode at the head of the uncrowned Charles VII’s army and into history, right? Well, for those who need a little refresher in history, we are talking about Joan of Arc and her famous victory at the Siege of Orleans in 1429 where she routed the English, paving the way for Charles to be crowned king of France.

I wrote many years ago my tribute to Joan here, in which I concluded that although Joan was hailed a hero by the French, she still felt that her mission in life was somewhat incomplete. God had commanded Joan to save France from the English, yet the English were still in much of northern France, despite their defeat at the hands of Joan (at Orleans). It was time Joan had thought to drive the English out of France forever.

And so, following the incredible victory at Orleans, Joan persuaded Charles VII to allow her to attach herself to his royal army in her quest to liberate France. Many rousing victories followed in towns across northern France en route to Paris. Unfortunately for the French, the eventual siege of Paris didn’t go to plan, where Joan herself was wounded by a crossbow bolt in her thigh. (She was eventually carried to safety during the French withdrawal.)

While the French army’s failure at Paris in September 1429 was a huge setback, it did not stop Joan in her crusade to save France from the English. The following year saw the French return to winning ways, that is of course until Joan in a stroke of bad luck was captured by English allies, the Burgundian, at the Siege of Compiègne on 23rd May 1430. While the siege was overall a minor battle in comparison to others during the Hundred Years’ War, the loss of Joan of Arc to the French was demoralizing. The story goes that after a failed surprise attack on the French, Joan and her army retreated to Compiègne where they to found the gates locked. It was here that Joan was pulled from her horse and captured.

Of interest, here is the Burgundian, Georges Chastellain’s description of Joan’s capture: “Then the Maid [Joan of Arc], surpassing the nature of a woman, took on a great force, and took much pain to save her company from defeat, remaining behind as the leader and as the bravest of the troop. But there fortune permitted for the end of her glory and for the last time that she would ever carry arms. An archer, a rough and very sour man, full of much spite because a woman, who so much had been spoken about, should have defeated so many brave men, as she had done, grabbed the edge of her cloth-of-gold doublet, and threw her from her horse flat to the ground.”

I have no doubt that Chastellain’s description here above became the inspiration for Belgian artist, Adolf-Alexander Dillens, history painting of the moment where Joan is hauled away by Burgundian soldiers. In my mind’s eye I can easily imagine the moment where Joan might have been quickly dragged to her feet by these Burgundian soldiers in Dillens painting. While they seem eager to show off their prize catch, presumable marching her off their superiors, it’s interesting how the helmeted Bungudian soldiers behind Joan almost look on in disbelief having captured Joan. In contrast, the archer stands forthright next to Joan shoving his fist in her face as an act of defiant and disgust. There is no doubt that her presence on the battlefield was most unwanted, especially given that as a young woman, she almost singlehandedly made a fool out of her enemies.

Of interest also in Dillens painting is how Joan is seemingly looking skyward for divine intervention. I guess little did she know it wouldn’t come. For poor Joan, the peasant girl who so wanted to be the savior of France, her capture was unfortunately the beginning of the end of her crusade. She would eventually be turned over to the English and tried for heresy and burned at the stake. Her martyrdom though would stir the French to eventually recapture France, but more importantly she would become an inspiration to Catholics everywhere.

This painting appears in the public domain.

3 comments on “History Painting: ‘Capture of Joan of Arc’ by Adolf-Alexander Dillens, circa 1850.

  1. What a woman and thank you for sharing this!

  2. padresteve

    Nice job on this

  3. Thanks so much for the history lesson. I am now much more informed.

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