Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Memorial day - 6

This is the sixth in a series of blogs posted each Wednesday dedicated at looking at memorials and public sculptures.

Within the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, in the Victoria Tower Gardens, can be seen the monument / sculpture “The Burghers of Calais” by Auguste Rodin.

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The sculpture has only just been replaced on its plinth having been on exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2006, and then on loan to the Kunsthaus, Zurich where it was part of the “Rodin - A Retrospective” exhibition.

At the exhibition it would have been guarded, with visitors not allowed to touch it. How different to its treatment in the gardens. While I was there to photograph the statue for this blog, a group of tourists were climbing over it, one placing a bottle top on one of the figures up held fingers.

The statue commemorates an event during the Hundred Years’ War, when in 1347 six citizens of Calais, then as now an important French port on the English Channel, offered themselves as hostages to Edward III after he had unsuccessfully besieged their town for nearly one year. The story goes Edward laid siege to Calais, Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs. Philip failed to relive the town and eventually the town had to surrender. Edward said he would spare the citizens if any six top leaders surrendered to him almost naked with nooses around their necks and carrying the keys to the city. Eustache de Saint Pierre, was the first to volunteer followed by five other town leaders. They knew they were walking to their death. Their lives were spared at the pleading of Edward’s queen Philippa of Hainault.

In 1880 the mayor of Calais proposed commissioning Rodin to make a statue to be placed in the city square. Rodin’s figures are slightly larger than life size, and contrary to common practice he placed them standing at ground level - not on a plinth. So they were placed until 1924, when against Rodin’s wishes the statue was placed on a plinth.

As was common with Rodin’s work more than one statue was cast from his mould. In 1911 the British Government purchased one of the eleven casts permitted to be made by French law after Rodin’s death.

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