Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > Burghers and Friars

Burghers and Friars

Sculpture rocks!

From the marbles and bronzes of Classical Greeks and the Etruscan-influenced literalism of the Romans, right through the Renaissance and up to the marvelous Southwestern work in Santa Fe and Sedona, great sculpture is a wonder.

And for me, no one since the Renaissance has surpassed Auguste Rodin. The poses and textures he created speak in a way no other sculptor in 500 years has managed, and surely not across such an array of true masterpieces.

My favorite piece in all ways, and on many levels, is The Burghers of Calais (1889). It captures a poignant moment from the Hundred Years’ War. Calais had been under English siege for over a year. In exchange for sparing its starving people, Edward III, demanded that the city’s six leaders walk out in tatters, carrying the keys to the gates and wearing nooses around their necks. Facing certain death.

Rodin’s bronze expresses each burgher’s understanding of his fate in the moments they waited for Edward to pronounce their doom. In the end, England’s Queen Philippa saved them. But the six men did not know that at the instant the sculptor has chosen.

When you are at the Musee Rodin and study each expression in this work, each stance, and all of them together, you understand completely what great sculpture should be.

Another marvelous Rodin piece, The Monument to Balzac, was done nine years after the Burghers. And it is a treasure for completely different reasons. This nine-foot tall tribute has the great, and greatly eccentric, novelist in his normal writing attire when at home: naked under the robe of a Dominican friar. Here, the sculpture is a moral portrait – a representation of who the man was, not particularly what he looked like. It is an amazing allegory in bronze. Wholly different, yet wonderfully similar to the Burghers.

After taking the time to experience Rodin’s work in the Musee’s restful setting, I find myself just tearing past the hundreds of pretentious and  pointless baubles that aspire to the title ‘sculpture’ in most modern art museums. Worse, when I stop to read the placards describing the artist’s angst and anguish and suffering and the ‘deep meaning’ of such a piece, I am even more unhappy with my bad choice about the use of my time.

I guess it’s the personal bane of having standards in an age that reviles them. It’s probably more of a problem too when someone has had a chance to learn how good a thing like sculpture can be. At this point, though, I just don’t care what’s trendy East of the Hudson.

I still want Burghers with my Friars! Or at least the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

But that’s another story.

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