Sir William Blake Richmond often depicted heroic figures, and many of his most famous works were of mythological characters and stories, such as The Song of Miriam (1870-81), Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon (1877) and Icarus (1887). St Joan of Arc certainly falls into the former ‘heroic’ category, but what makes the work unusual is that it is a rare example of the artist choosing to portray an historical figure, as opposed to mythological.
The artist presents St Joan as purposeful and focused, although with a Burne-Jones sensitivity to her features, which suggests a vulnerability and awareness that martyrdom awaits her. The wings on her helmet perhaps recall the mythological hero Perseus, aligning her with the heroic greats of the past.
The historic and romantic fascination in Britain for the medieval in the 19th century encouraged a number of other artists – including Rossetti, Millais and Waterhouse - to interpret the 15th century subject of St Joan of Arc. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.