Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, completed in 1889

The Burghers of Calais, completed in 1889, is one of the most famous sculptures of the French artist Auguste Rodin (12 November 1840 – 17 November 1917).

"The Burghers of Calais, commemorating an episode during the Hundred Years' War between England and France, is probably the best and certainly the most successful of Rodin's public monuments. Rodin closely followed the account of the French chronicler Jean Froissart (1333 or 1337–after 1400) stating that six of the principal citizens of Calais were ordered to come out of their besieged city with head and feet bare, ropes around their necks, and the keys of the town and the caste in their hands. They were brought before the English king Edward III (1312–1377), who ordered their beheading. Rodin has portrayed them at the moment of departure from their city led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre, the bearded man in the middle of the group. At his side, Jean d'Aire carries a giant-sized key. Their over sized feet are bare, many have ropes around their necks, and all are in various states of despair, expecting imminent death and unaware that their lives will ultimately be saved by the intercession of the English queen Philippa. The arrangement of the group, with its unorthodox massing and subtle internal rhythms, was not easily settled, and the completed monument, cast in bronze by the Le Blanc-Barbedienne foundry, was not unveiled in Calais until 1895." - taken from the Metropolitan Museum's website (the pictures are of the cast in the Met) because I could not think of how I would possibly explain this story within a few paragraphs nor all the characters and their emotive states.

This sculpture is one of my favorite works of art, and probably one of my favorite sculptures. Rodin's work is so compelling to me because he is able to express the depth of emotion his subjects feel. This ability is also very visible in another of his well-known works, the Gates of Hell, from which we have the very famous sculpture, the Thinker. The downtrodden stares of some of the figures conflict with the heavy sense of duty some carry upon their thin shoulders. The aforementioned over-sized feet and hands give the sense of weight that is pressing down upon these six individuals. Not only is the viewer aware of the moment but also of all that they endured during the siege, from hunger to pride. In this particular group Rodin showcases his extraordinary talent. The story itself is moving but Rodin's stark depiction of this harsh reality moves me to tears whenever I see it. I have included a detail of one of the figures that is especially compelling. Because of its multifaceted nature I have included a few views of the work and a second installation in Stanford, CA to show the individual poses more clearly.

This is the last entry for this week and I will return Monday with, by special request!, the Deposition (1525-28) by Jacopo Pontormo in the Chiesa di Santa Felicita in Florence! Buon fine settimana!

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