My daughter is preparing a paper on how Joan of Arc was depicted during the middle ages. One of the heresies Joan committed was cross-dressing. A manuscript created twenty-five years after her death depicts her in armor over a long red dress holding a pike and shield and standing next to Judith who holds a sword in one hand and in the other a tent flap open to reveal Holofernes' decapitated head. The connection between the two is visually apparent - both stood alone virtuous and courageous in saving their people from an overwhelming enemy. But what is interesting is that the text (according to another of my daughters) describes Joan as wearing men's clothing on and off the battlefield. So we are faced with an illustration at odds with a text – at cross-purposes with one another. This intentional political or cultural decision in effect minimizes the visual heresy of Joan's clothing in order to maximize her actions within biblical prophesy while at the same time texturally drawing upon actual trial documents and eye-witnesses to her heresy to establish her saintliness on a much more sophisticated level of meaning. This ‘cross-dressing’ of captions to images and Illustrations for text is not unusual or unique. The Surrealists played with this relationship in their collages and art games, many Post-Modernist artists (e.g., Barbara Kruger) continued this tradition to make political as well as social criticism and current practice continues to mine it power to create subtle harmonic subtexts with the art. Such artistic practice brings to light how powerful and insidious its use can be for manipulating all forms of information in every day life.
Judith and Holofernes and Joan of Arc (1412-31) from 'Le Champion des Dames' by Martin le Franc (1410-61) 1451. © Bridgeman Education