Gallery of reconstructed portraits

Created: 2003
Published: 2003
Modified: 2004

The reconstructed portrait of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

No one could foresee that a farmer's girl from the village of Domrémy would once play a major part in the big Medieval struggle between France and England, the so-called Hundred Years War. Yet Joan of Arc (*1412–†1431 ce, she called herself ‘Jehanne’) did contribute much to the benefit of the French Kingdom. When she was only thirteen years old, she started to hear voices telling her to make sure the dauphin — the French crown prince VII — would be crowned and protected against the English and Burgundians. Deeply religious, Joan of Arc believed that her mission was ordered by God. She motivated the French — soldiers, knights, as well as noblemen — and persuaded the dauphin to support her expedition. With Joan of Arc as their inspirator, the French were able to force the English to raise their siege of Orléans. Thereafter, she became publicly known as the ‘Maid of Orléans’. With the ‘Maid’ present, more victories soon followed and the dauphin was anointed and crowned king of France. However, Joan of Arc was too naive to see that she was actually only used by him, merely as a popular mascot. When she, ultimately, was captured by the Burgundians, he did nothing to save her. Joan of Arc was extradited to the English, who were pleased to see the ‘Witch of the Armagnacs’ in captivity. Since the Church was troubled by her claims of a divine calling, she was accused of heresy, brought to trial, and convicted by (mainly French) inquisitors. Consequently, abandoned by all, she was burned at the stake. The story of Joan of Arc is described and analysed in detail by Lucie-Smith. After her death, Joan of Arc played an important part in French society as a heroine and a saint.

How should we picture the appearance of Joan of Arc? Two very important written sources on the life of Joan of Arc exist. The first is the Procès de Condamnation, the record of the trial in which she was convicted. The second is the record of the retrial in which she was rehabilitated, the Procès de Réhabilitation. This retrial compassed a series of investigations that were made some twenty years after her death. The first source consists mainly of the interrogation of Joan of Arc. The second contains testimonies of many eyewitnesses, who all had personally known Joan of Arc. In these documents she is described as a short, sturdy woman, with black hair. She wore man's clothes (this was in fact the main reason for her death sentence) and her hair had been short-cropped all around, just above the ears, similar to the hairstyle of contemporary, fashionable men. The clothing consisted of a shirt, shorts, a doublet (padded undercoat), hose that were attached to the doublet, tight-fitting boots, leggings, a short coat of mail with a solid breastplate, and an overcoat that reached until the knees. On top of all that she usually wore a luxurious tabard and a black hat. She carried weapons, like sword and lance, and she had her banner and her shield specially made, with her own heraldic symbols. In addition to the trial records, two near-contemporary images of Joan of Arc survived. However, these portraits can't be true to life, because they contradict the written sources. On a French–Flemish illumination Joan of Arc was depicted in full plate armour (but without helmet and gloves), with long, brownish–red hair. Also on the second image, a quick sketch in the margin of a manuscript reporting the siege of Orléans, she was reproduced with long hair. Because the trial records should be more reliable in this matter, we must assume that the images — however close to contemporary — were created mainly from the artist's imagination. Nevertheless, the banner and the sword, shown on both images, are in full agreement with the information from the trial records.

Which style was generally accepted at the time of Joan of Arc? French manuscript illuminations from the first half of the fifteenth century ce are imaginative, colourful, and refined images, containing a wide variety of tones and shades — commonly composed with tiny, parallel brush strokes. The images are somewhat forced: sometimes the layout is quite unnatural. On the whole, the representation of details is fairly realistic though, except for the relative proportions. Buildings, ships, mountains, and trees for instance, were mostly depicted too small compared to the size of humans. The images do contain some depth — even though drop shadow is rarely shown — and the rules of perspective have sometimes been applied, but unaccustomedly and hardly ever successfully. A great example of this contemporary style is the Livre des Merveilles, a French manuscript from 1412 ce containing nice illustrations of the story of Marco Polo. Another example is an illuminated calendar from the Très Riches Heures, dating from 1416 ce, by the Van Limburg brothers. The Van Eyck brothers were also active during this period, in Flanders. With their painted panels they caused the rebirth of portraiture and the oil paint technique. Just in 1432 ce, Jan van Eyck finished the altarpiece Het Lam Gods. By working with oil paint (meaning transparent layers) the Van Eyck brothers were able to reproduce details — fabric, skin, metal — even more realistically. However, this technique still wasn't common use.

The following details were included in the reconstructed portrait. The clothing and hairdo (invisible under the hat) were displayed in conformation with the description in the Procès de Condamnation. The hat and tabard are fully visible. The doublet is hidden, except for the sleeves. A part of the coat of mail, besides its sleeves, can be seen round the neck. Parts of the overcoat are shown on the hip and shoulders. Finally, the combination of leggings and boots, with the hose underneath, is also partly visible. The solid breastplate is completely covered by the clothes. Joan of Arc is represented with her most important objects: her banner and her sword. The banner made her presence clear during battle, to motivate the troops. It was made of white linen, decorated with lilies and the text “Jhesus Maria”, like Joan of Arc describes it in the Procès de Condamnation. “Jhesus” had probably been shortened into “ihs”, as shown by both the French–Flemish illumination and the sketch. The banner also contained an image of Christ with two angels, but nothing is known of its size and appearance. Because this image justifies a whole separate inquiry, its reconstruction wasn't ventured upon. Joan of Arc holds her sword upside down, because she didn't actually participate in the fighting itself. Her other weapons were not reproduced for the same reason.

Do you have a suggestion or remark concerning this reconstruction? All comments are much appreciated.


  • Edward Lucie-Smith, Joan of Arc (London 1976 ce).
  • Pierre Tisset and Yvonne Lanhers, Procès de Condamnation de Jeanne d'Arc (Paris 1960–1971 ce).
  • Jules Quicherat, Procès de Condamnation et de Réhabilitation de Jeanne d'Arc (Paris 1841–1849 ce).
  • French–Flemish illumination, portrait of Joan of Arc, France: Paris: Archives Nationales: Musée de l'Histoire de France (Hôtel de Soubise), AE II 2490 (France/Vlaanderen 1450–1500 ce). The miniature on parchment shows Joan of Arc from the hips up, in plate armour, with her banner and a sword, against a background of gold.
  • Sketch representing Joan of Arc in the records of the Parliament of Paris, France: Paris: Archives Nationales: Musée de l'Histoire de France (Hôtel de Soubise), AE II 447 [X1a 1481 fol. 12r] (France after 1429 ce). The records were written by (order of) registrar Clément de Fauquembergue. The sketch was drawn in the left margin of a page of the manuscript, next to an entry of May 10th 1429 ce about the developments concerning the siege of Orléans. It was possibly added some time after the entry had been written — or even much later. Joan of Arc was depicted from the knees up, in side view, wearing a tight top and something like a skirt (perhaps part of a coat of mail), and holding her banner and a sword.
  • Livre des Merveilles, France: Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Ms. Fr. 2810 (France 1410–1412 ce). The manuscript contains many illuminations representing the travels of Marco Polo, stories that date from the 13th century ce. The manuscript was presented to the duke of Berry in 1413 ce.
  • Van Limburg brothers (or ‘De Limbourg’ brothers), calendar section of the Très Riches Heures, France: Chantilly: Musée Condé (Château de Chantilly), Ms. 65/1284 (Paris 1412–1416 ce). The calendar was made by order of the duke of Berry. The 3 Van Limburg brothers originally came from Nijmegen (now in the Netherlands), but they had their workshop in Paris.
  • Van Eyck brothers, Het Lam Gods or ‘Ghent Altarpiece’, België (Belgique): Gent: Sint-Baafskathedraal (Gent/Brugge 1424–1432 ce).

Alternatives for ‘Joan of Arc’: Joan / Joanna / Johanna / Juana / Jeannette / Jeanne / Jhennette / Jehenne / Jehanne — of Arc / de Arco / d'Arc / Darc / la Pucelle.

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