Equestrian Statue of Joan of Arc
Replica after a statue of Jeanne d'Arc in Paris, France, by Emmanuel Fremiet
Equestrian Statue of Joan of Arc
gilded bronze with hammered copper elements
Coe Circle, 3900 NE Glisan, Portland, Oregon
Cadie Copley Vespermann, Medieval Portland Capstone Student, 2020
The equestrian statue of medieval saint and warrior Joan of Arc in Northeast Portland's Coe Circle is a replica of the statue Jeanne d’Arc, in Paris, sculpted by Emmanuel Fremiet. The statue stands around 12 ft tall and is mostly made of bronze. Constructed from hammered copper, are a pennant flag, that she holds in her right hand, and on her head, she wears a laurel wreath, which symbolizes victory and the beginning of peace.
Cultural representations of Joan of Arc do not appear in the United States until after the American Revolution. The first instance of the symbolic use of Joan of Arc in the States is from 1797 when Philip Freneau publishes a poem in which he refers to her. In his poem, he praises a woman named Deborah Gannett for being inspired, as Joan of Arc was, to clothe herself as a man and fight against the British during the Revolution. Shortly after the publication of Freneau’s poem, an Irish American, John Daly Burk, wrote a play titled, Female Patriotism; or, The Death of Joan of Arc. It opened in New York in 1798. The Joan of Arc represented in Burk’s play embodies the ideals of freedom and equality for all people. Burk highlights the fact that Charles VII, the man for whom Joan fought to be crowned king of France, did nothing to save her when the English captured her. In doing this, Burk further spurs the American aversion to the institution of a monarchy. In this way, Joan of Arc is reimagined by the American people as one who fights for democracy not monarchy.
When the world broke into war in 1914, America was ill-equipped, and it did not go unnoticed. In January 1915, the New York Times calls the United States a "great, helpless, unprepared nation". The American government was tasked with not only trying to catch up to the twentieth century but also preparing itself for joining the fight of the Allied forces on European soil. With the innovation of the mass-produced image, it was possible to widely dispersed wartime propaganda that often displayed images of Joan of Arc in full color, and sought out the support of the American people. This propaganda capitalized on the cultural revival of medievalism in the United States and the anti-modernist attitude of that time. With Joan of Arc already established as a defender of democracy and heroin of the people in the minds of Americans, it was not difficult to reestablish her as a cultural icon. She showed up in films, children's books, and even songs.
Knowing the history behind the use of representations of Joan of Arc in America, it is no surprise that in 1925 Dr. Henry Waldo Coe gifted a statue of Joan of Arc to the city of Portland to memorialize the American soldiers of WWI, nicknamed the doughboys. Dr. Coe said that Joan of Arc was the patron saint of the American Soldiers when they were overseas during the war. The New York Herald-Tribune also noted the American soldiers' fascination with Joan of Arc, "It was an outstanding fact of our campaign in the Great War that Joan of Arc was almost as much a heroine of the doughboys as the poilu." (Poilu being the nickname for the French infantryman during WWI.) It’s reported that the Doughboys would sing the song, "Joan of Arc, They Are Calling You", originally composed by Frank Sturgis in 1915. Dr. Coe even said, "…the singing of 'Joan of Arc' by the Americans had much to do in reviving the drooping spirits of the French and bringing victory out of defeat". Soldiers would sing this very song as they marched into battle, so the Royal Rosarian quartet performed the song at the statue’s dedication.
The entire statue was gilded in 24-carat gold leaf. However, not everyone liked the gold leaf that Joan dawned, and some even called it gaudy. As the decades went by, the gilded beauty eventually lost her luster. The flag she held and the wreath she wore also deteriorated. The state of our dear Joan was so bad that a national sculpture conversation organization that was working with the Smithsonian used a picture of her on their letterhead as an example of the deteriorating state of America’s public art. Fortunately, after fundraising and receiving a matching grant of $24,000 from a nationwide nonprofit, Save Outdoor Sculpture program, the statue of Joan was restored to her luminous glow in 2002. Jonathan Tagart, an art conservator, fashioned a new pennant flag and laurel wreath for Joan, and Nancy Thorn, a gold leaf restorer, tackled the project of recovering the statue in gold leaf.
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“Boule: Sunset Ladies (and friends) plan new calendar.” The Oregonian. May 23, 2002
“Joan’s Charger is Already Losing Glossy Coat: Spots Show.” The Morning Oregonian. July 8, 1925.
Kilgore, Jennifer. "Joan of Arc as Propaganda Motif from the Dreyfus Affair to the Second World War." Revue LISA 6, no. 1 (2008): 283-5.
“Sculptor’s Secret Kept in Bronze Heart of Joan.” The Morning Oregonian. August 12, 1925.
“Smithsonian Institution Research Information System.” SIRIS. Accessed April 30, 2020. https://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?&profile=all&source=~!siartinventories&uri=full#focus.
Tuttle, R.M. “Part of Joan of Arc in World’s History Is Recalled.” The Sunday Oregonian. May 24, 1925.