PROSPER D'ÉPINAY (Île Maurice 1836 - 1914 Paris)

Bust of Joan of Arc

White marble
12 1/2 x 11 5/8 inches (31.75 x 29.51 cm)
Signed P d’Epinay and dated 1898 back

In 1898 the Mauritian born French artist Prosper d’Épinay began work on the life size sculpture Jean d’Arc au Sacre.  He had dreamed about this sculpture for over thirty years.  Joan of Arc as a subject in literature and art had been resurrected, as it were, after the Franco-Prussian war (1870/71) and France’s defeat by the Germans.  France had changed regimes numerous times during the 19th century, and the government had to encourage its people to reinvigorate their patriotism.  Images of sacrifice and virtue were disseminated, using the revered 15th century maid of Orléans, Joan of Arc, as a symbol.  This movement in painting, literature and sculpture continued well after the war.  Artists such as Jules Bastien Lepage (Joan of Arc, 1879, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Emmanuel Frémiet (Joan of Arc on Horseback, 1874, Place des Pyramides, Paris) produced works depicting various moments in the short life of Joan of Arc.

As the story goes, Joan of Arc (1412-1431), a deeply religious peasant girl from Domrémy, had visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who implored her to aide Charles II in his fight against the English during the Hundred Years War.  At the behest of Charles, she entered battle and, according to historical accounts, the English siege of Orléans was lifted in shortly over one week.  The French prevailed against English dominance and Charles II was thus crowned King in the city of Reims. After being captured in 1430 by Burgundian allies of the English, Joan was turned over to the English.  After a sham trial, Joan was found guilty of treason and burned at the stake on 30 May 1431.  Having been exonerated of all false charges by Pope Callixtus III, Joan was declared a martyr in 1456. By 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte named Joan the symbol of France.  In 1909 she was beatified and in 1920 canonized.

D’Épinay meticulously researched the history of the siege and the armor Joan wore in battle.  While visiting St. Peter’s Basilica d’Épinay found his model for Joan -- a young woman kneeling in prayer.  His full-length sculpture -- composed of Siena marble, silvered bronze, ivory, and lapis lazuli -- was completed in 1901 and exhibited at the Salon of 1902.  It was purchased from d’Épinay at the Salon by Louis Abelé, who donated the sculpture to the Cathedral of Reims in honor of Joan’s beatification in 1909.  The sculpture remains on view at the cathedral to this day.

Prosper d’Épinay,  Jean d’Arc au Sacre , Reims Cathedral, 1898­-1901

Prosper d’Épinay, Jean d’Arc au Sacre, Reims Cathedral, 1898­-1901

In our bust, Joan’s face exhibits a quiet calm as she appears determined to persist in her endeavor, no matter the personal consequences.  D’Épinay skillfully depicts the girl’s inner peace, deep conviction and unwavering Catholic faith.  The sculptor strips Joan’s face of unnecessary detail, imbuing an ascetic simplicity to her features.

Prosper d’Epinay was born to a wealthy family that resided on the Île Maurice.  They moved to France in 1839 but returned after his father’s untimely death.  After schooling on the island and a foray into the study of law in Paris, d’Épinay entered the atelier of the sculptor Jean-Pierre Dantan (1800 – 1869), who was a renowned caricatural sculptor.  D’Épinay became a resident at the Villa Medici in Rome and worked with the Italian sculptor Luigi Amici (1817 – 1897) on the tomb of Pope Gregory XVI.  By 1865 d’Épinay opened his own workshop in Rome, which he ran until 1912.  D’Épinay received many honors in England, France and on his native island and split his time between Rome, Paris and London.  His work is included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the musée d’Orsay, Paris; the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam and the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, amongst others.