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Plate 2.38: Fountain at Rouen, Dedicated to Joan of Arc
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.38: Fountain at Rouen, Dedicated to Joan of Arc. Commentary by Brian E. Rodriguez.
Plate: Plate 2.38 of Vetusta Monumenta was engraved by James Basire Sr. in 1786, based on an anonymous drawing acquired in France and submitted to the SAL by Edmund Turnor in 1784. The plate shows the fountain erected in 1525 the Old Market Square in Rouen to commemorate the murder of Joan of Arc in 1431. The caption on the plate claims that the fountain was erected on the exact spot where Joan was burnt at the stake; however, this claim has been shown to be inaccurate (Cook 1905, 227). The plate is divided in two parts by a line and rule, which illustrates the scalar relationship between the two sections, presumably in feet. The top portion shows the front view of the fountain, which has a three-part structure. The figure of Joan is the centerpiece of the middle section. The bottom part of the engraving provides a cross section of the fountain, allowing the viewer to accurately reconstruct the monument’s dimensions.
Object: The Fountain at Rouen was erected in 1525, approximately 100 years after the murder of Joan of Arc. Originally, the spot where Joan was thought to have been burnt was marked with a simple cross, but a grander monument was called for on account of Joan’s shifting legacy from heretic to martyr. In daily life, the fountain served as a place to draw water as well as site of pilgrimage, primarily for women. The fountain was taken down in 1755 and replaced by a far less delicate work that depicted Joan as a warrior. This third monument was destroyed during the bombing of Rouen in World War II. The SAL probably chose to engrave the first fountain in order to preserve the most accurate record possible of the original monument.
Fountain erected in the Old Market place at ROUEN on the Spot where the MAID of ORLEANS was burnt 1430.
Original Explanatory Account: Click here to read the original explanatory account for Plate 2.38.
Commentary by Brian E. Rodriguez: The subject of Plate 2.38 is unusual in the series of engravings commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) for Vetusta Monumenta: it lies outside of England and rather than commending Britain’s past it highlights a blemish on English history. As noted in the accompanying letterpress account, the English under Henry V colluded with their Burgundian allies in the capture and sentencing of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), whose monument is depicted here. This unsigned letterpress account was authored by Richard Gough (1735-1809), director of the SAL, as confirmed by a rough draft of the account dated November 1785 and included in the Society's minutes (SAL Minutes XXXI.13). The account’s final paragraphs provide important details about the engraving’s history, most significantly that the drawing was taken under the direction of Monsieur Descamps, of Rouen, and communicated to the SAL by Edmund Turnor. On 1 April 1784, Turnor read a paper on the antiquities of Rouen to the SAL, in which he describes the Château du Vieux Palais, built by Henry V of England. The paper is printed in Archaeologia (Turnor 1785), along with illustrations of the Palais and of the tower in which Joan of Arc was held before her execution. The SAL minutes corroborate Turnor’s involvement, recording that he presented drawings in 1784 of the tower in which Joan of Arc was confined as well as the cross erected to her memory (SAL Minutes XIX.296, 301). The SAL council looked at these drawings at two separate sessions and decided to engrave only the “cross” (SAL Council Minutes II.289, 294). The council minutes record that proof prints of the Fountain Cross at Rouen were examined in December of 1785 and May of 1786 (SAL Council Minutes III.17, 41). This engraving (along with the corresponding one in Turnor 1785) is the work of James Basire Sr. (1730-1802), who was appointed engraver to the society in 1759 and is responsible for the majority of the plates in volumes II and III of Vetusta Monumenta. He is best known today for his apprenticeship of William Blake.
Gough’s letterpress account only briefly addresses the monument and its history. Instead, it focuses on the story of Joan of Arc: Her childhood in Domremi, her appearance as a visionary, her success in leading Charles VII to his coronation in Rheims, etc. For Joan’s history, Gough relies on The Chronicles of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, who was present at Joan’s interrogation by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Gough clearly admires Joan’s accomplishments, and he condemns his countrymen for their role in the orchestration of her death. For support, Gough points to Robert Henry’s recent History of Great Britain (1771), which contends that Joan’s only crime was an ardent love of her country, “which she preserved against a foreign yoke” (1786, 5). This re-evaluation of Joan’s legacy speaks to a renewed interest in her story, especially as it pertains to the history of England. Gough’s account seeks to make clear that the SAL considered Joan’s fountain as a tribute to her legacy, and a reminder of British arrogance at the end of the Hundred Years' War.
The plate consists of two parts. The top presents the front of the fountain (erected 1525) in great detail, accurately showing its tripartite structure, as well as the seahorse-like figures that rise above the spouts where water emerges. Joan is in the middle of the fountain. She is wearing a simple cloth garment. Above and around Joan are other saint-like figures, which emphasize her status as a Christian martyr. The bottom of the plate provides a rendering of a cross section of the fountain, which illustrates the fountain’s dimensions. The plate's two parts are divided by a rule that shows the scalar relationship between the fountain and its cross section. Aubin Louis-Millin (1759-1818) re-engraved Basire’s print in his Antiquités nationales along with a description of the fountain (1791, 1.8-9). In 1791, Millin also communicated to SAL an engraving and account of Henry V's palace at Rouen (SAL Minutes XXIV. 178) The anonymous Memoirs of Jeanne D’Arc offers this translation of Millin’s description: “The fountain in question was of very delicate workmanship, and consisted of three ranges of pillars, one above another, on a triangular base; the whole ornamented with arabesque and statues of saints, at the summit of which rose that of Jeanne d’Arc. The water issued from three spouts terminating with horses’ heads” (1824, 2.272). The Memoirs state that the fountain was designed at a time when the arts were reviving in France – a reference to the French Renaissance, which is usually said to begin as early as the 15th century (1824, 2.273). The delicate workmanship of the various figures of the fountain suggests the influence of Greek mythology, but the stick Joan carries is symbolic of early depictions of Christ (fourth and fifth centuries) which show him holding a wand or stick when performing a miracle. The fountain can be considered a rendering of Christian symbolism utilizing the new style of the Renaissance.
The period of French architecture at the turn of the 16th century was a transitional one between the still thriving Gothic tradition and the emerging Italian influence. The Italian rediscovery of antiquity spread gradually to France. French involvement in Italian affairs at the end of the 15th century helped spur the popularity of the Renaissance style at home. In 1494 King Charles VIII invaded Naples; later attempts to conquer portions of Italy by Louis XII and François I ensured that the Renaissance made its mark on French culture (Cloulas 1998, 7). A 1502 contract for a tomb honouring the ancestors of the Dukes of Orleans mentions the Genoese sculptures, Michele d'Aria and Gerolomo Viscardi (Blunt 1983, 36-3). It does not follow that these artists had a personal involvement with the project. However, it marks a definitive moment at which it can be said that Italian art had arrived in France.
Rouen is home to two structures whose history helps contextualize Joan's fountain in the history of French architecture. The first is the tomb of the Cardinals of the Amboise family, begun 1515, about which Anthony Blunt writes: "In its general form it is Gothic, in its wildness it is Flamboyant, in its detail it is Italianate, and yet as a whole it is unmistakably in the style of which we call 'Francois I'" (1983, 22). The second work is the Fontaine de la Croix de Pierre, erected in 1519. An engraving and short account of this cross is presented in John Britton's edition of drawings by Augustus Pugin (1828). Constructed only six years before Joan's fountain, it is surprisingly more Gothic in its construction. Like Joan's fountain, the Fontaine de la Croix de St. Pierre has a three-part structure. However, these levels are not separated by columns; rather, they are all part of a single, upward rising column or spire. This fountain is richly embellished: its columns are grooved, its statues carefully rendered, and the whole is filled with Gothic ornaments.
Joan's fountain, as depicted here, is three stories high, and its triangular base is marked by a column at each corner, shown in the plan view at the bottom of the print. The fountain is located at the bottom, with a central water pipe supported by three lion-head brackets. The lowest tier is punctuated by three large load bearing columns, decorated with a variety of scrolls, urns, fleur-de-lis, and other embellishments borrowed from the Italian Renaissance style. The tops of these columns end at the top of the second tier and hold statues. The second tier contains the largest statue, which is most likely a representation of Joan of Arc, notwithstanding Millin's claim that she is positioned at the top of the fountain. The top tier consists of a dome supported by columns that frame the statue within the dome. Unlike the statues of the Fontaine de la Croix-de-Pierre, which are inset within the primary support, the statues of Joan's fountain are either set atop columns or on columns that support the foundation. This results in the ability to see the figures in three dimensions, rather than only the front. These "freestanding" statues are made possible by the columned design of Joan's fountain, which is carefully visualized by Basire in his engraving for Vetusta Monumenta.
Basire’s two-part engraving may be compared to George Vertue’s (1684-1756) engraving of Waltham Cross (Plate 1.7) in the first volume of Vetusta Monumenta. Vertue’s engraving of the cross presents both the front of the monument and a cross section. However, as Katharina Boehm points out in her commentary on this plate, Vertue’s engraving includes the figure of a man approaching the fountain from the right, demonstrating a deeper level of engagement with the materiality of the monument, while still maintaining the Society’s interest in accurate representation for the purpose of historical preservation. The degree to which each engraving incorporates the life around the monument speaks to the antiquarian dilemma between scientific representation and the need to illustrate how the monument functioned in its natural setting. Further comparison to depictions of crosses and Joan’s Fountain is warranted not only on account of the similarity of style between the fountain and cross, but also because the council minutes refer to proofs of the Fountain Cross, indicating that the SAL thought of Joan’s fountain in relationship to other prints of crosses. For example, in the Vetusta Monumenta plates featuring Gloucester Cross (Plate 2.8) and Doncaster Cross (Plate 2.10), the monument is set within the broader context of everyday life, with even more detail than the Waltham Cross plate. The engraving of Doncaster Cross also shows a cross section of the monument. In contrast to these engravings, Basire’s Fountain is set naked on the page, without any reference to its social setting in the Old Market Place of Rouen, or of how the monument functioned as an object of everyday life for the inhabitants of the city.
Noah Heringman notes that Gough’s leadership of the SAL privileged “two essential components of the science of preservation: the creation of a visual record and the critique of historically unfaithful alterations. Both are (or ought to be) informed by what is here termed the ‘science’ of architecture” (2013, 233). Comparison with a later engraving of the fountain by Louis de Merval (fl. c. 1868) helps to shed light on the antiquarian’s desire for the “scientific” preservation of objects. In contrast to the symmetrical details of Basire’s engraving, which uses two illustrations to capture the dimensions of the fountain, Merval presents the fountain at an angle that indicates its dimensions – less precise, but more picturesque. Moreover, Merval illustrates the fountain within an idyllic depiction of French country life: women are washing and drawing water from the fountain, two individuals are conversing with each other in the background, and workmen come and go. However, Merval’s engraving of the fountain lacks the detail of Basire’s. The figures and pillars of the fountain are engraved without the antiquarian’s eye for accuracy. Notably, Merval’s engraving only captures the figure that stands atop the fountain as a suggestion, failing to accurately indicate the fountain’s real height even within the parameters Merval sets. In contrast, Basire’s engraving for SAL is a far more technical work, depicting the dimensions of the fountain only in relationship to itself to create a visual record of the object that is “scientific,” rather than to illustrate its function within Rouenais life, à la Merval.
John Godefroy’s (1771-1839) engraving of the fountain, reprinted in Ignace Goube’s Historie du duché de Normandie Vol. II (1815, 204) also depicts the monument within the context of French life, but adds figures which emphasize Joan as a patron saint for women. A woman in a white robe stands in front of the fountain with her arms open in supplication; she is holding a white cloth, indicating her status as a virgin. Most significantly, the figure of Joan is altered: She is depicted as offering forgiveness to another figure of a woman kneeling and kissing her hand. With its inaccurate embellishment of Joan, Godefroy’s engraving goes even further than Merval’s in its transgression against the scientific accuracy valued by the SAL, not only depicting the fountain as an element of French life, but also deploying symbolic imagery that illustrates the fountain as a site of pilgrimage for women. Godefroy’s symbolic approach is dramatically different from Basire’s effort to preserve an accurate depiction of the original fountain for historical purposes.
The history of the fountain reveals a lot about how Joan’s legacy has been interpreted and represented in memorial sculpture since her rehabilitation in 1456. Gough quotes from the appellate court’s verdict: “In the place where the Maid was cruelly and horribly burned and strangled; and after the solemn preaching, shall be planted and set up a suitable and proper cross, in remembrance and perpetual memorial of the said maid” (1786, 4-5). The placing of the cross in Joan’s honor humbly initiates Rouen’s tradition of public artworks honoring the saint. Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776-1847) records that in 1525 the fountain depicted in Vetusta Monumenta was erected (1821, 61-62). Theodore Andrea Cook (1867-1928) suggests that the location of the fountain was chosen out of convenience as the town took advantage of recent piping brought into the Marché aux Veaux because the level of ground allowed water to fall easily (1905, 227). Cook’s theory provides insight as to why the fountain was erected where it was, as it is not in the precise location where Joan of Arc was sentenced to death, although it is within the vicinity. The fountain was later taken down or demolished in 1755: “upon the site of which was built the present tasteless production” (Dibdin 1821, 62). In the letterpress account, Gough mistakenly claims the original fountain was “renewed,” rather than replaced (1786, 5). This second fountain was very different from the original, depicting an armed Joan of Arc at the top of a pedestal. This fountain emphasized Joan’s status as a holy warrior, signaling a shift away from her association with other saint-like figures, as in the original fountain. This 1755 monument was destroyed by an Allied bomb in 1944 when Rouen was under German occupation. In 1913 M. M. Mangasarian interpreted Joan’s transformation from heretic to martyr as a triumph of rationalism: “This is the twentieth century – for we are drinking at the fountain of Joan of Arc instead of carrying fagots to her stake” (16). Mangasarian ironically turns the devout Joan into a figure representing a shift away from the Roman Catholic Church, as he holds the church responsible for Joan’s execution. These changing views of Joan’s legacy throughout nearly five centuries reflect different aspects of her character and story, which are aesthetically embodied within the two fountains built in her honor in Rouen.
Today, the spot where Joan of Arc was burnt is marked by a plaque in a small garden in the Old Market Square. The plaque reads, “The location where Joan of Arc was burnt on May 30th 1431.” The plaque echoes the simplicity of the original cross placed in her honor in 1456, as mentioned in Gough’s account. The garden and plaque are next to a church commissioned in 1969 in Joan’s honor, designed by the architect Louis Arretche (1905-1991), and consecrated in 1979. The church is in the shape of an overturned boat and is notable for its intricate stained-glass windows. All of the windows were recovered from Saint-Vincent church, which was destroyed by the bombing in 1944. Oliver Chaline observes that the church “has the shape of a flame, whereas the neighbouring market recall[s] the waves” (Chaline 2000, 22). There is no fountain in the garden near the church, but statues commemorating Joan of Arc are located in and around the building. In general, the Old Market Square itself continues to serve as a memorial to Joan of Arc, whose “enthusiasm,” or religious zeal, as Gough notes, led to France’s victory over the English in the Hundred Year’s War.
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