The Burghers of Calais
|Dimensions||(79 3/8 in × 80 7/8 in × 77 1/8 in)|
Les Bourgeois de Calais is one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, completed in 1889. It serves as a monument to an occurrence in 1347 during the Hundred Years' War, when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for over a year.
The story goes that England's Edward III, after a victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to Calais, while Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs. Philip failed to lift the siege, and starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender.
Edward offered to spare the people of the city if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first, and five other burghers joined with him. Saint Pierre led this envoy of volunteers to the city gates. It was this moment, and this poignant mix of defeat, heroic self-sacrifice, and willingness to face imminent death that Rodin captured in his sculpture, scaled somewhat larger than life.
Although the burghers expected to be executed, their lives were spared by the intervention of England's Queen, Philippa of Hainault, who persuaded her husband to exercise mercy by claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.
The City of Calais had attempted to erect a statue of Eustache de Saint Pierre, eldest of the burghers, since 1845. Two prior artists were prevented from executing the sculpture, the first, David d'Angers by his death, and the second, Auguste Clésinger, by the Franco-Prussian War. In 1884 the municipal corporation of the city invited several artists, Rodin amongst them, to submit proposals for the project.
Rodin's design was controversial. It was not a pyramidal arrangement and contained no allegorical figures. It was intended to be placed at ground level, rather than on a pedestal. The burghers were not presented in a positive image of glory; instead, they display "pain, anguish and fatalism". To Rodin, this was nevertheless heroic, the heroism of self-sacrifice.
In 1895 the monument was installed in Calais on a large pedestal in front of a Parc Richelieu, a public park, contrary to the sculptor's wishes, who wanted contemporary townsfolk to "almost bump into" the figures and feel solidarity with them. Only later was his vision realised, as in 1926 the sculpture was moved in front of the newly-completed town hall of Calais, where it rests on a much lower base.
Under French law no more than twelve casts of this piece were permitted after Rodin’s death.
Some installations have the figures tightly grouped with contiguous bases, while others have the figures separated. Some installations are elevated on pedestals, others are placed at ground level, and at least one is slightly sunken, so that the tops of the bases of the figures are level with the ground.
While the first cast of the group of six figures (1895) still stands in Calais, other original casts stand at:
- Glyptoteket in Copenhagen, cast 1903.
- the Royal Museum in Mariemont (Belgium), cast 1905.
- Victoria Tower Gardens in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament in London, cast 1908.
- the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, cast 1925.
- the gardens of the Musée Rodin in Paris, cast 1926.
- Kunstmuseum in Basel (Switzerland), cast 1943.
- the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., cast 1943.
- the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, cast 1953.
- the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, cast 1968.
- the Brooklyn Museum, cast 1979.
- the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, cast 1985.
- PLATEAU (formerly the Rodin Gallery) in Seoul. This is the 12th and final cast in the edition, cast 1995.
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- Froissart, Jean, Chronicles of England France, Spain, and the adjoining countries, (1805 translation by Thomas Jhones), Book I, ch. 145
- Jianou (1970), p.69.
- Elsen (1963), p. 72; Laurent (1989), p. 82.
- Laurent (1989), p. 89.
- "Burghers of Calais, (sculpture)". SIRIS
- "Burghers of Calais". The National Museum of Western Art. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
- "Rodin: The Cantor Gift to the Brooklyn Museum". Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
- "The Burghers of Calais". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- About Plateau
- The Burghers of Calais, PLATEAU 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-11.
- "The Burghers of Calais, (sculpture)". SIRIS
- Elsen, Albert E. (1963). Rodin. New York: Museum of Modern Art.
- Jianou, Ionel (1970, transl. Kathleen Muston and Geoffrey Skelding). Rodin. Paris: ARTED.
- Laurent, Monique (1988, transl. 1989 by Emily Read). Rodin. New York: Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 1-56852-173-1.
See also 
- Link to The Burghers of Calais on the official website of the Musée Rodin.
- Rodin: The B. Gerald Cantor Collection, a full text exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains material on The Burghers of Calais