Friday, January 26, 2024

Art Eyewitness Essay: Art and the Hundred Years War


Art Eyewitness Essay: 
Art and the Hundred Years War

Text by Ed Voves
Original Photography by Anne Lloyd

Jean d'Aire cheated Death twice.

One of the protagonists of The Burghers of Calais, Jean d’Aire was immortalized, along with his compatriots, by Auguste Rodin in a monumental sculpture group. Created during the years, 1885 to 1895, The Burghers of Calais has become a powerful testament to the folly of war.

Jean d’Aire first escaped death’s clutches in 1347. He and five fellow leaders of the French city of Calais were granted a last minute reprieve from execution by the warlike king of England, Edward III. Six hundred fifty-four years later, a portrait bust by Rodin of Jean d’Aire was salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

  Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 Auguste Rodin's imagined portrait of Jean d'Aire, 
a detail of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais

The story of the Burghers of Calais is one of the most memorable incidents of the Hundred Years War, 1337-1453. As recounted in the Chronicles of Jean Froissart,  Jean d'Aire and his fellow burghers, with nooses clinging to their throats, offered their lives to save Calais from destruction. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
 Detail of The Burghers of Calais at The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

Expecting death, the Burghers walked grimly through the gates of Calais to hand the keys of the city to King Edward III. This is the moment sculpted so  memorably by Rodin in clay and then cast in bronze.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
 View of The Burghers of Calais at The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

Moved by the Burghers' display of courage and fearing God's wrath, Queen Philippa of England begged for the six men to be spared.

According to the conventions of Medieval Europe, the courage of the Burghers of Calais and the compassion of Queen Philippa exemplified the ideals of Chivalry. In the endless war that followed, Chivalry would be sacrificed along with an estimated two million lives, killed in battle or by disease and starvation.

The Hundred Years War began as a rivalry between the Valois family of France and the Plantagenets of England. Both claimed to be the legitimate heir to the throne of France. This quarrel between the two French-speaking dynasties was complicated by the break-away efforts of the powerful Duchy of Burgundy, which joined forces with England against France during the 1420's. 

From a typically medieval dispute over royal pedigree, the Hundred Years War escalated into one of the most significant conflicts of world history.

The military campaigns of the Hundred Years War fostered the development of gunpowder weapons, bombards and culverins, able to demolish castle walls with devastating artillery salvos. In order to provide the financial resources to pay for these cannons – and for “cannon fodder” – the French and English monarchs implemented new methods of taxation and government organization. Unwittingly, the royal rivals created the matrix of the modern nation state.

One of the most remarkable features of this bloody, century-long, struggle is the lack of accurate visual documentation of its world-shaping episodes. The great artistic revolution of the 1400's, which we now call the Renaissance, did not extend to the battlefields in France.

Apart from portraits of the kings of France and England, we lack reliable images of most of the leading protagonists, including Jean d'Aire and the other Burghers of Calais.

A fascinating example of the pictorial "black hole" in the story of the Hundred Years War is the illuminated manuscript known as The Bedford Hours. A miniature illustration shows the formidable English commander, John, Duke of Bedford, praying before a blue-caped St.George. Historians believe that the facial features of St. George are based on a death-bed portrait of King Henry V, victor of Agincourt. But we can't be sure of this.

A miniature from The Bedford Hours prayer book, 1430,
 showing John, Duke of Bedford, praying before St. George

Incredibly, there is no contemporary portrait of Joan of Arc. Celebrated - and vilified - during her short life (1412-1431), this courageous young woman’s actual features are a blank canvas.

Clément de Fauquembergue,

 Representation of Jeanne d'Arc in the Register 

of the Parlement de Paris, May 10th, 1429

A drawing of Joan of Arc, dated May 10, 1429, was based on verbal “hear-say.” It was sketched in the margin of a note book by Clement de Fauquemberque, clerk of the Parlement of Paris. Since Paris was controlled by the English in 1429 – and many local officials had switched sides to join them - de Fauquemerque’s sketch of Joan may well be a hostile caricature.

All of the images of Joan of Arc, Christian saint, symbol of French patriotism and martyr of Women’s History, belong in the same Gallery of Imaginary Portraits as Rodin’s memorable depiction of Jean d'Aire and the Burghers of Calais.

Why bother to discuss the lack of images of a long-ago war? There are three reasons for considering the Hundred Years War in Art Eyewitness.

  Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 Emmanuel Frémiet's Joan of Arc (1890),  
 on display near the Philadelphia Museum of Art

The first reason is personal. My grandmother came from northeast France, as did Joan of Arc. Two sculptures related to the Hundred Years War are on view in Philadelphia, my hometown. One of them is a copy of The Burghers of Calais, the other of Joan of Arc mounted on her charger. Both have shaped my thoughts on life and war for many years.

I have also been motivated by the recent publication of Triumph and Illusion, the fifth and final volume of The Hundred Years War by British historian, Jonathan Sumption. Researched and written over a period of 43 years, this is the definitive account of the war, massive in scope and incisively narrated. 

Sumption, who is one of Britain’s leading trial lawyers, knows how to argue a case based on the evidence. His verdict on the Hundred Years War – victory for France, England’s defeat, decisively shaping each nation’s society and institutions – commands respect.

The third and most compelling reason is the constant report and rumor of war throughout our twenty-first century world. War in the Ukraine, wars in the Middle East, nations threatening and mobilizing for war at other crisis points – war, everywhere war.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2021)
 Detail of The Burghers of Calais at The Rodin Museum, Phila. 
The figure at right represents Andrieu d' Andres

If ever there was a need to stop and reflect on the meaning of The Burghers of Calais, Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War it is now.

Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais and the statue of Joan of Arc, which I mentioned earlier, were commissioned as a result of another war. This was France’s shocking defeat by Germany in 1870-71, which involved the seizure of the province of Lorraine where Joan had been born. 

  Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 Emmanuel Frémiet's Joan of Arc, 1874, 
 created in 1890 for the city of Philadelphia

In 1872, the French government commissioned Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910) to create a monumental statue of the medieval heroine. Joan, the Maid of Orleans, was being called upon to spark a revival of French national pride.

Frémiet approached his task with zeal and artistry. He meticulously replicated fifteenth century armor and chose a young woman from Domrémy, Joan’s village in Lorraine, as his model. Astride her warhorse with banner waving, the bronze (later gilded) Joan of Arc was placed on a pedestal in 1874, at the Place des Pyramides in Paris.

Frémiet created a second version of the statue for the city of Nancy in France and then, in 1890, for Philadelphia. There was a strong affinity for French culture in Philadelphia in the late 1800’s. The statue of Joan was placed at a prominent site near the city’s zoo. After the Philadelphia Museum of Art was built, the statue was relocated to Kelly Drive, adjacent to the museum.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 View of Emmanuel Frémiet's Joan of Arc, Kelly Drive, Philadelphia

Frémiet’s Joan of Arc was a statue which every ardent French patriot or an American Francophile could approve. But there were problems with selecting Joan as a symbol of French nationalism. A related work of art, created around the same time, revealed the difficulty of adapting medieval history to suit modern circumstance.

Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) was a native of Lorraine. When the Germans seized Lorrraine, along with Alsace, in 1871, the shock was profound. Bastien-Lepage set to work on his visual rendering of the Joan of Arc saga, but his approach was very different from Frémiet’s flag-waving fervor.

The keynote of Bastien-Lepage's painting was religion. Bastien-Lepage came from a pious Catholic family, as had Joan. He chose to depict Joan at the moment when three saints - St. Michael, St, Catherine and St. Margaret - appeared to her, urging her to lead the French armies against England. 

What is more, Bastien-Lepage, France's most promising Realist painter, chose to include St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret in the picture.

Ed Voves, Photo (2022)
 Jules Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc, 1879

When Bastien-Lepage unveiled Joan of Arc in 1879, he was chagrined at its reception. Instead of a chorus of approval, the huge oil-on-canvas received faint praise in some circles of the French cultural establishment and damnation in others. Critics denounced the work for its inclusion of ethereal beings in a real world setting. This was a polite way of saying that Bastien-Lepage was mixing religion with politics.

From the time of the 1789 Revolution, the French Republic espoused a markedly secular approach to nation building. The Roman Catholic religious establishment was regarded with deep suspicion by left-wing political groups and occasionally subjected to hostile action, including the 1871 Paris Commune revolt. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2022)
 Gallery view of Bastien-Lepage's Joan of Arc at The Met 

By emphasizing Joan of Arc's religious background, Bastien-Lepage struck a nerve. The French government refused to buy the painting. Instead, an American collector, Erwin Davis, purchased it in 1880 and it was later bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The effort to foster French patriotism with Frémiet's statue of Joan of Arc and the controversy regarding Bastien-Lepage's version set the stage for one of the greatest of all artworks dealing with the theme of war: Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais.

Rodin was one of several sculptors competing for a prestigious commission from the city government of Calais, the modern embodiment of the fourteenth century burghers. The town fathers wanted a single statue of the leader of the Calais burghers, Eustache de Saint-Pierre. Naturally, they wanted Eustache to be perched on a pedestal.

Rodin won the commission and, being Rodin, determined to do it his way. First of all, he envisioned the sculpture in democratic terms. All six burghers of Calais would be portrayed. No pedestal.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2019)
 View of The Burghers of Calais at The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

Rodin's commission called for him to submit two models or maquettes. The first gave a nod toward the initial idea of a single, heroic figure of Eustache de St. Pierre, positioning him leading the other five in a brave progress toward their meeting with Edward III.

The second model, upon which the finished work is based, revealed a complete transformation. Rodin now showed a leaderless group. The burghers, including a  haggard-looking Eustache de Saint Pierre, are united by fear as well as a sense of duty. Each man is shown, striving in his own way to act with courage, as basic impulses of self-preservation threaten their resolve.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 Auguste Rodin's imagined portrait of Eustache de Saint Pierre

The city commissioners of Calais were appalled when they beheld the second model. They communicated their displeasure to Rodin in no uncertain terms, stating "this is not how we envisaged our glorious citizens going to the camp of the King of England. Their defeated postures offended our religion..."

Rodin refused to back down and eventually the city commissioners, following in the footsteps of the medieval burghers, asked for peace terms. But it was not an unconditional surrender. They insisted on a pedestal and Rodin obliged them.

Officially, Rodin based his position on his well-known antipathy to the "law of the Academic School." While this was no doubt true, Rodin's real motivation was a bold plan to do what few sculptors had ever done before. He aimed to depict doubt, indecision, uncertainty and fear in the faces and emotions of human beings who were attempting, at the same time, to be brave - and not sure if they will succeed.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 Gallery view of Rodin's The Burghers of Calais at The Met 

Rodin movingly described his vision of the burghers of Calais as conflicted heroes:

I have … threaded them one behind the other, because in the indecision of the last inner combat, which ensues, between their devotion to their cause and their fear of dying, each of them is isolated in front of his conscience. They are still questioning themselves to know if they have the strength to accomplish the supreme sacrifice ...

Rodin's words ring true. I am fortunate to be able to spend a good bit of time in the company of Eutache de St. Pierre, Jacques and Pierre de Wiessant, Jean de Fiennes and Andrieu d' Andres. Both in the outdoor setting at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia and in the Petrie Sculpture Court at The Met, study and reflection on The Burghers of Calais is one of the most soul-satisfying activities I know.


Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023)
 Auguste Rodin's imagined portrait of Pierre de Wiessant

Rather than comment further myself, i will defer to the wisdom of Kenneth Clark.

In his masterful book, The Romantic Rebellion, Kenneth Clark wrote of The Burghers of Calais:

It is comprehensible to anyone who will pay attention: the dramatic element is inherent, not additional; and the burghers, in every movement, give sculptural form to the feelings of common humanity.

Our common humanity. That is what we see in the tense, twisted bodies and anguished faces of the Burghers of Calais. Into their contorted limbs and questioning eyes, Rodin poured the sufferings of generations of soldiers and non-combatants of the Hundred Years War - and by extension of all wars. 

This brings us back to Jean d'Aire and the second time he "cheated the hangman." 

One of greatest modern collectors of Rodin's art was B. Gerald Cantor, founder of the Cantor-Fitzgerald brokerage firm.  Cantor had been lavish in donating many works by Rodin to museums, including The Met. It was Cantor and his wife, Iris, who gave the magnificent Burghers of Calais, shown above, to The Met in 1989.

After Cantor died in 1996, approximately 300 Rodin casts were still owned by his firm. In the "museum in the sky" in the 105th floor, North Tower, office of Cantor-Fitzgerald, many  of these Rodin bronze casts were on display on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Three Rodin works from the Cantor-Fitzgerald collection were rescued from the rubble and wreckage of that unspeakable tragedy: two of The Three Shades, a small scale cast of The Thinker (which quickly "disappeared"), and a dented bust of Jean d'Aire.

The bust of Jean d'Aire survived the 9/11 disaster, "crash-landing" to earth to remind us of the common humanity of the 658 staff members of Cantor-Fitzgerald who perished. He "survived" to remind us, too, of the precious gift of our humanity. 

"Death be not proud." 

So John Donne wrote and so Jean d'Aire, Burgher of Calais, continues to bear witness.


Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                                   Original photography, copyright of Anne Lloyd, all rights reserved

Introductory Image: Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Auguste Rodin's The Burghers of Calais, showing Jean d'Aire and (at left) Eustache de Saint-Pierre.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Auguste Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais, modeled 1884–95, cast by the Alexis Rudier Foundry, 1919-21. Bronze: 6 feet 10 1/2 inches × 7 feet 10 inches × 6 feet 3 inches (209.6 × 238.8 × 190.5 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Jules E. Mastbaum, 1929

Unknown artist (French, 1400’s) Miniature of John, Duke of Bedford, praying before St George; from The Bedford Hours. British Library, Held and digitised by the British Library.,_Duke_of_Bedford_(detail)_-_British_Library_Add_MS_18850_f256v.jpg

Clément de Fauquembergue (French, 1400’s)  Représentation de Jeanne d'Arc dans un registre du Parlement de Paris, May 10th, 1429. Centre Historique des Archives Nationales AE II 447 (X1a 1481 fol. 12r.), Musée de l'Historique de France (Hôtel de Soubise)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Emmanuel Frémiet’s Joan of Arc, 1890. Gilded bronze: (height) 15 ft., (width) 4 ft, 8 in., (depth) 7 ft. 4 in. Granite base: (height) 8 ft. 4 in. (width) 5 ft. 6 in. (depth) 10 ft. Commissioned by the French Centennial Committee of Philadelphia and the Fairmount Park Art Association. Owned by the City of Philadelphia.

Ed Voves, Photo 2022 Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc, 1879. Oil on canvas: 100 x 110 in. (254 x 279.4 cm) Gift of Erwin Davis, 1889. Metropolitan Museum of Art #89.21.1   

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Auguste Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais, modeled 1884–95, cast by the Coubertin Foundry, 1985. Bronze: 82 1/2 × 94 × 95 in. (209.6 × 238.8 × 241.3 cm) Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, 1989

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