A new portrait of Saint Joan of Arc adorns the eponymous parish of LaPlace – Clarion Herald

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(Photos by Beth Donze, Clarion Herald; and courtesy of the Piras family)

By BETH DONZE
Bugle Herald

The 6-foot-tall canvas depicts a teenage girl in the midst of a simple task – harvesting radishes from a garden of lilies and irises.

The young woman in an apron could be any young farmhand who gets her hands dirty, but the artwork’s sacred dioramas, decorative fleur-de-lis, and shimmering halo suggest it’s not a ordinary girl.

The subject is Saint Joan of Arc, the down-to-earth Maid of Orleans, at work on her family’s farm in France.

The stunning oil portrait of Saint Joan – a far cry from the armored soldier the public has known through nearly every other artistic rendering of her – was officially unveiled this weekend at the namesake Church of Saint Joan of Arc at LaPlace, in conjunction with the parish’s 75th anniversary mass.

Blair Gordy Piras, the Covington-based sacred artist who was commissioned to execute the portrait through a grant from the St. Louis IX Art Society of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, a ministry committed to fostering the appreciation of sacred art and to support those who create it.

“It was an opportunity to get to know (Saint Joan of Arc) and grow in friendship with her,” Piras said.

Holy inspirations in the life of Saint Joan

To prepare for the commission, Piras read Mark Twain’s 1895 biography of St. Joan, which recounted the holy “voices” that strengthened her during her relatively short life from 1412 to 1431.

“The background (of the painting) is a kind of tapestry of its history and the inspirations it received,” Piras explained, pointing to the cast of miniature saints hovering near the large central figure of Saint Joan:

• Saint Michael the Archangel, seen on Saint Joan’s right shoulder, was the first saint to “visit” young Joan and inspired the overall theme of the painting of a girl who is suddenly interrupted while harvesting vegetables.

“During her trial, St. Joan said she was in her family’s garden and heard St. Michael’s voice,” Piras said. “St. Michael told her she was going to have this great mission and take up arms, and he gave her specific instructions.

• Two other saints close to Saint Joan of Arc – both virgin martyrs – appear near the young girl’s left shoulder: Saint Margaret of Antioch is presented in her traditional artistic mode of stabbing a demon, while Saint Catherine of Alexandria is depicted touching a spiked wheel, the instrument on which she was performed.

“St. Catherine is holding a sword, as it is linked to the legend of Saint Joan’s sword,” Piras explained, sharing the story of how Saint Catherine told Saint Joan to look for her battle sword under a specific church.

“The sword was found under the altar, the priest cleaned it of rust, and Saint Joan carried it into battle,” Piras said. “It was a blunt sword,” she added, pointing to the tip of the weapon in her painting. “St. Joan never killed anyone.

Jesus and Mary, always with her

The figures at the top of the painting remind viewers of the two main components of Saint Joan’s “spiritual armor” – Mary and Christ.

• To express Mary’s protective solicitude for Saint Joan, Piras painted the scene of the Annunciation, in which Mary is told that she will give birth to Jesus. The Holy Spirit, symbolized by a dove, floods Mary – and Saint Joan below – with golden rays of light.

• To represent Christ, Piras painted Christ enthroned in heaven, a representation of him that is usually included in scenes from the “Last Judgment”. Christ, seated between two angels, is supported by a rainbow which symbolizes the hope of salvation.

“St. Joan’s angels told her to put (those images of Mary and Jesus) on her battle flag, so that they would be part of her story,” Piras said. , as an artist, because when Saint Joan was asked (by the 15th century artist who made her banner) how she wanted Mary and Jesus depicted, she replied that she wanted they are represented. as they appeared in the churches. This is why the background is made in the style of a medieval painting – the artists of the time were just beginning to develop a more realistic representation of people, but always returned to this earlier iconography.

New angle on Sainte-Jeanne

The project, which took about two and a half months in Piras, was made possible by the “St. Louis IX Art Fund” society, which funds the installation of original works of religious art in the parishes and schools that lack resources or who have experienced a major challenge.

Upon hearing of the ministry’s offer to fund an artwork for his parish damaged by Hurricane Ida, Saint Joan of Arc’s pastor, Father David Ducote, asked Piras to reimagine Saint Joan – as hardworking and faithful daughter of rural France rather than the soldier.

“It was important to Father David that this play really speak to her parishioners, that she was just an ordinary girl who followed God’s call to her and was faithful to it,” Piras said. .

Painting rooted in the local environment

St. Francisville-born Piras, owner of Blair Barlow Art, honed her craft at the School of Sacred Art in Florence, Italy. To “locate” his painting of Saint Joan, Piras included plants found around his home church of St. Joseph’s Abbey, where his brother is a monk. As well as being inspired by the jewel-toned irises that grow beside the abbey pond, Piras gave painterly nods to his bounty of lilies, collard greens and red clover. Radishes, although not grown on the grounds of the abbey, were included in its composition for practical reasons.

“I was just looking for a smaller vegetable that was also from France,” Piras said. “But the main purpose of seeing Saint Joan in the garden is to illustrate this moment in time as she works. Saint Michael Radishes rolled from her hand She has one hand open in reception (of Saint Michael’s message) and the other hand touching her heart.

One of the painting’s most intricate details – Saint Joan’s halo – is yet another “teaching moment”. It bears the inscription: “Jehanne la Pucelle” – medieval French for “Jeanne la Pucelle”.

“This (signature) was taken directly from manuscripts that Saint Joan herself signed,” Piras said. “She couldn’t write herself – she had a scribe – but she signed her name.”

The artist said she kept a detail of the painting near her waistcoat: the identity of the model who posed for the portrait.

“He’s a very prayerful person, and it really shows,” Piras said. “She just has an inner peace and a connection with God, and when you paint someone who’s right in front of you, you have this challenge to really revere the holiness of God in that person.”

Funding for the painting was made possible by the St. Louis IX Art Fund through the generous donations of Joseph and Sue Ellen Canizaro, Matthew Maurin, and St. Catherine of Siena KC Council No. 12686.

The portrait of Saint Joan is the first commission financed by the Saint-Louis IX Art Fund for the archdiocese. Earlier this year, the fund commissioned a painting from society artist Jaclyn Warren for the Holy Family School in Port Allen (in the Diocese of Baton Rouge) titled “The Extended Holy Family Celebrate Passover.” To learn more about the St. Louis IX Art Society, including ways to donate to the art fund, visit sl9art.com.

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