The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers of Calais
The Burghers of Calais
Artist Auguste Rodin
Year 1889
Type Bronze
Dimensions (79 3/8 in × 80 7/8 in × 77 1/8 in)
Location Calais, France

50°57′8.24″N 1°51′12.65″E / 50.9522889°N 1.8535139°E / 50.9522889; 1.8535139

Les Bourgeois de Calais is one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, completed in 1889. It serves as a monument to an occurrence in 1347 during the Hundred Years' War, when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for over a year.



The story goes that 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 out at all costs. Philip failed to lift the siege, and starvation eventually forced the city to parley for surrender.

Edward offered to spare the people of the city if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out almost naked, 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 burghers soon followed suit, stripping down to their breeches. Saint Pierre led this envoy of emaciated 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.

In history, though 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.


Under French law no more than twelve casts of this piece were permitted after Rodin’s death. The London casting, purchased by the British Government in 1911, is one of them.

The monument was proposed by the mayor of Calais for the town's square in 1880. This was an unusual move, because normally only monuments to Victory were constructed, but France had suffered devastating losses in its defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and it longed to recognize the sacrifice that its young men had made. Rodin's design was controversial, as it did not present the burghers in a heroic manner; rather they appeared sullen and worn. The monument was innovative in that it presented the burghers at the same level as the viewers, rather than on a traditional pedestal, although until 1924 the city council of Calais, against Rodin's wishes, displayed the statue on an elevated base.

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University[1]

Some installations have the figures tightly grouped with contiguous bases, while others have the figures separated. Some installations are elevated on pedestals, others are placed at ground level, and at least one is slightly sunken, so that the tops of the bases of the figures are level with the ground.

While the first cast of the group of six figures (1895) still stands in Calais, other original casts stand at:

Some installations of Rodin's Burghers of Calais (for example at Stanford University and the National Art Gallery in Canberra) are not casts from the original group with six figures on a common base.


See also


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