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Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc and the Beauty of Books in Fin-de-Siècle Paris

West Building Lecture Hall, National Gallery of Art
December 12, 2018
02:00 PM to 04:00 PM
Panel discussion at the National Gallery of Art

An expert panel will explore French medievalism at the turn of the twentieth century by examining the particular cases of Boutet de Monvel’s Joan of Arc and book arts, along with the greater phenomenon of medievalism during the Belle Époque. This panel will be held in conjunction with the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection’s special exhibition, Juggling the Middle Ages. In its interdisciplinary display, this show explores the role of Gothic revivalism in French national identity and book arts.

Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1850–1913) explored the subject of Joan of Arc in several memorable forms, notable among which are six dazzling paintings in oil and gold leaf (ca. 1906–1912). In her presentation, Nora Heimann will place the artist's  treatment of Joan of Arc in its historic context.  She will analyze the stylistic origins of the paintings, their genesis in Boutet de Monvel’s illustrated book Jeanne d'Arc (1896), their relationship to an award-winning monumental mural by the same artist that disappeared in the early twentieth century, and the peregrinations of the six paintings from their commission to their current display at the National Gallery of Art.

Willa Silverman will follow to focus on the attraction held by medieval themes and iconography during this era for those engaged in book production. An atmosphere of intense bibliophilic activity came to define French culture at the turn of the twentieth century, promoted in part by the activities of upper-bourgeois collectors who considered print a crucial part of popular conceptions of aesthetics. As amateurs, publishers, authors, designers, and directors of bibliophile societies, reviews, and small presses, these “new bibliophiles” often worked closely with both authors and artists to create unique volumes bearing the esthetic influence of Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Japonisme, and the Medieval Revival.

To conclude, Elizabeth Emery will explore the French engagement with the medieval period in the years 1870–1914. She will examine this French medievalism (the postmedieval engagement with medieval things) through a range of examples including paintings, history textbooks for children, and popular World’s Fair attractions and memorabilia. Through this multimedia presentation she will help contextualize the late nineteenth-century French passion for medieval motifs that so influenced American visitor Senator William A. Clark that he returned to Washington with many treasures, including Boutet de Monvelʼs Joan of Arc paintings now on display in the National Gallery of Art.

The panel will take place in the West Building Lecture Hall, accessible via the Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue entrance. Registration is not required.

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Juggling the Middle Ages

Featuring more than 100 objects, Juggling the Middle Ages explores the influence of the medieval world by focusing on a single story with a long-lasting impact—Le Jongleur de Notre Dame or Our Lady’s Tumbler. The exhibit follows the tale from its rediscovery by scholars in the 1870s to its modern interpretations in children’s books, offering viewers a look at a vast range of objects, including stained glass windows, illuminated manuscripts, household objects, and vintage theater posters.