Saturday, April 5, 2014

Impressionism (pt. 15)

His Burghers of Calais is among his famous artworks.  The sculpture commemorates an event from the city of Calais' medieval past.  Six men came to the King of England (Edward III) in 1341 to offer their own lives to save their French city from destruction against the English invaders.  They came with nooses around their necks, knowing that they would be executed.  Although their deaths would save Calais, these burghers aren't pictured here as stalwart heroes but rather as ordinary people, vexed with understandably profound emotion at the prospect of dying.
They each have differing emotions on their impending doom.  One buries his head in his hands while another looks sad.  One tries to keep a bold face on but meanwhile clenches his fists tightly in unconcealable anxiety.  Their act of bravery was superhuman, but their emotions at the event are pictured here as completely human.  This is an end to the artistic depiction of the steadfast appearance of heroes within the face of adversity, as we've seen since, like, the beginning.  Now the artist wants to show us the real, honest side to human emotion.  And these brave men were not figures of nobility or rank; they were humble burghers who volunteered out of duty, not because they necessarily felt very strong in that moment.  Their emotion-ridden faces and gestures here create a powerful image of profound realism.  Rodin also placed his life-size figures on an open slab of bronze that was intended to be put at ground level.  The work was meant to be viewed up close (for viewers to walk up to it and around it) to remind people of the boundless capacity for love and self-sacrifice.

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