“The Burghers of Calais, commemorating an episode during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, is probably the best and certainly the most successful of Rodin’s public monuments. Rodin closely followed the account of the French chronicler Jean Froissart (1333 or 1337–after 1400) stating that six of the principal citizens of Calais were ordered to come out of their besieged city with head and feet bare, ropes around their necks, and the keys of the town and the caste in their hands. They were brought before the English king Edward III (1312–1377), who ordered their beheading” (Metropolitan).
Rodin was commissioned to design this sculpture as a memorial to the six council men of Calais who sacrificed their lives to save their town during the One Hundred Years War. When most people think about war memorials they immediately picture sculptures or paintings representing honor, valor, bravery and patriotism. The Iowa Jima Memorial by Felix de Weldon or The Oath of the Horatii by Jaques-Louis David may come to mind. However when Rodin began to design this stunning piece of artwork, he didn’t think about those things. He thought about the pain, despair, suffrage and sacrifice of the citizens that took their lives in war. What Rodin did was change the perception of what common people picture a true war hero to be like. Viewers imagine them as fearless and courageous but in reality, they are nervous and scared. Through art, we see its true form, but only if the artist chooses to unveil the dark side of its battle. Rodin held nothing back and although at first he angered the town of Calais for his realistic approach to the The Burghers, he stayed true to himself and the vision of war so many people take for granted. Just one of the many reasons Rodin is acknowledged as one of the greatest sculptors of all time.
– The Paintress