Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), “The Burghers of Calais,” circa 1884-1889, bronze, 6 feet, 10 1/2 in. x 7 feet, 10 in. x 6 feet, 3 in, © Museé Rodin 2017

In this ongoing series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we join a chorus of celebration in honor of Rodin’s centenary.

Many — indeed most — consider Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) the father of modern sculpture. As the art world celebrates Rodin’s legacy this year, we’ve decided to join the festivities by detailing one of his most famous works, “The Burghers of Calais”.

Completed between 1884 and 1889, “The Burghers of Calais” is a powerful public monument in bronze featuring six portraits of French prisoners from the city of Calais. Calais was a besieged city during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Fascinated by the conflict, Rodin closely followed the account of French chronicler Jean Froissart (1333-after 1400), who describes — among many other details — the moment when six principal citizens of Calais were ordered to come out of the city with bare heads and feet, ropes around their necks, and the keys of the town and castle in their hands.

Rodin has sculpted the individuals, in various states of emotional distress, with incredible expressiveness. The sculptor’s roughly hewn surfaces powerfully echo the intensity of the moment and lend themselves beautifully to the subjects’ gripping expressions. Led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre (the bearded man in the middle of the group), each member seems to be contemplating his imminent death, unaware that their lives will ultimately be saved by the intercession of the English queen, Philippa.

Via the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “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 LeBlanc-Bardedienne foundry, was not unveiled in Calais until 1895.”

To learn more, visit the Rodin Museum.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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