Les Bourgeois de Calais by Auguste Rodin was completed in 1889. It serves as a monument to a historical event of 1347 during the Hundred Years' War, when Calais was under siege by the English for over a year. Calais commissioned Rodin to create the sculpture in 1884.
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. Starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender.
Edward offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward ordered 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 citizens 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. Rodin conceived the sculpture as a study in the varied and complex emotions under which all six men were laboring. Kenneth Clark has described the work as "Romantic man at the end of his rope."
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 original cast is in Calais and there are other copies the one above is in London.
There are twelve casts of the Burgers. The one above is in Victoria Tower Gardens near the Houses of Parliament in London, cast 1908, moved to London in 1915.
|Eustache de Saint Pierre|
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