AUGUSTE RODIN (Paris 1840 – Meudon, France 1917)
The Burghers of Calais, 1889
The sculptural group of The Burghers of Calais celebrates an episode that took place in 1347, during the Hundred Years War. After having suffered a long siege by the soldiers of Edward III, King of England, the city of Calais felt obliged to surrender.
Six burghers led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre offered the besiegers the keys of the city and their own lives in exchange for the safety of the citizens. Struck by the gesture of the six French patriots, the English king spared their lives too.
In 1884, the Municipality of Calais commissioned Rodin to create a monument celebrating the heroism and identity of the city, opting for his solution over those of Jean-Charles Cazin and Alphonse Legros. At the time, the Parisian sculptor was considered an established artist, both for his public works and as a portraitist, being favoured in particular by exponents of the art world. After long vicissitudes, the sculpture was finally inaugurated on June 3, 1895.
The plaster sculpture conserved today in Ca’ Pesaro is the third example made by Rodin for exhibition in Vienna (9th Secession exhibition) and Venice (4th Biennale). After an initial definitive model (1889), probably destroyed after the bronze was cast, the sculptor produced a second one in 1900 for the Pavillon Rodin in place de l’Alma for the Universal Expo of Paris.
The dismantling of the exhibition and its move to Meudon took place only at the start of the following year, so Rodin created this example for the two exhibitions of 1901. It was on the occasion of the personal show the Biennale dedicated to Rodin that same year that the Municipality of Venice purchased the group for the city’s gallery of modern art.
(cf. A. Le Normand-Romain, A. Haudiquet, Rodin: Les Bourgeois de Calais, Paris 2001)