Rodin, The Burghers of Calais
Six Men, One Purpose
Rodin followed the recounting of Jean Froissart, a fourteenth-century French chronicler, who wrote of the war. According to Froissart, King Edward III made a deal with the citizens of Calais: if they wished to save their lives and their beloved city, then not only must they surrender the keys to the city, but six prominent members of the city council must volunteer to give up their lives. The leader of the group was Eustache de Saint-Pierre, who Rodin depicted with a bowed head and bearded face towards the middle of the gathering. To Saint-Pierre’s left, with his mouth closed in a tight line and carrying a giant set of keys, is Jean d’Aire. The remaining men are identified as Andrieu d’Andres, Jean de Fiennes, and Pierre and Jacques de Wissant.
It was common in the nineteenth-century to depict an event with a single heroic figure. For example, Rodin’s later sculpture Monument to Balzac (1891-97), where the French playwright and novelist, Honoré de Balzac, is shown standing tall and alone with his head held high. This is similar to what the city of Calais was inevitably expecting from Rodin. As a result, they were displeased with Rodin’s concept—they wanted only one statue; the one of Eustache de Saint-Pierre. Instead, Rodin included all six men from Froissart’s account.