Le Jardin Jeanne d’Arc
Joan of Arc was long dead by the time the idea of a new France was sparking the imagination of sixteenth-century monarchs. And she was ancient history by the enlightened eighteenth century, when the French and English were fighting on the Plains of Abraham. By the early twentieth century, however, Joan was prominent again in the public consciousness. Beatified in 1909 and sainted in 1920, she was brought back to life by writers such as Alphonse de Lamartine, Jules Michelet, and Mark Twain.
Among the many who would adopt Joan of Arc as a subject for their art in the wake of her reinstatement was Anna Hyatt Huntington, a Massachusetts-born sculptor, who admired this heroine of the Hundred Years War for her religious zeal, her bravery, and her beauty. You can see all of these traits clearly in Hyatt Huntington’s statue of a standing Joan in New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Palms pressed together in prayer, the shepherdess-turned-knight is portrayed as elegant and tough, preparing for the battles to come.
But for Hyatt Huntington, Joan was at her best when she was on a horse; in fact, Hyatt Huntington herself was at her best as well. The artist’s father was a professor of zoology and a curator at the Boston Society of Natural History. Perhaps it was from him that she inherited an appreciation for animals in general and a passion for horses in particular. Over the course of her career, she sculpted countless animal subjects and chose to portray several of her human subjects in the saddle. Hyatt Huntington was thus thoroughly in her element when she unveiled in 1915 one of her crowning achievements, a triumphant statue of Joan of Arc, sword raised high, horse marching valiantly forward. The monument still stands at the corner of Riverside and 93rd Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Today, an identical copy of the sculpture stands on Quebec City’s Plains of Abraham, a gift from the sculptor herself in the 1930s. The National Battlefields Commission landscaped a park around it – le Jardin Jeanne d’Arc – to give Hyatt Huntington’s sculpture the dramatic stage it deserves. Her Joan fits well there, defiant and brave, patrolling the hallowed ground on which thousands of soldiers fought for their lives.