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View From Your Table


In the garden at the Musee Rodin, Paris

It’s funny, but for me, the history of sculpture stops with the Greeks, and begins again with Rodin, who is even more moving to me for the same reason that Maria Callas is more moving than (the technically perfect) Renata Tebaldi. Here is a Rodin sculpture I wasn’t allowed to photograph, called “The Sin.” [2] This image, taken from a website, doesn’t adequately portray the power of the sculpture to convey the intensity and all-encompassing power of lust. The amazing thing about the sculpture is how Rodin manages to convey lust with almost breathtaking force without evoking it.

One of my favorite Rodin sculptures I first saw in the museum at Stanford, but encountered again today. It’s called “She Who Was The Helmet-Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife.” [3] It is a deeply moving portrait of an old woman whose body is exhausted, but whose dignity is magnificent. A more emotionally resonant portrayal of the human spirit weighed down by mortality I have never seen. And then there is this face, from Rodin’s well-known “The Burghers of Calais”:


That’s an image of Jean d’Aire, one of the six leaders of the French coastal city of Calais, which was under siege in the 1300s by the English. The English king said he would spare the city’s people if six of their leaders would surrender themselves to him, in humiliation, presumably to be executed. Rodin’s sculpture depicts the inner torment of these men. This face, of Jean d’Aire, is to me the most affecting, not only in its pained stoicism, but because the man’s strong arms show how he’s suppressing his emotion to do his sacrificial duty for his people. The strength of this man’s character!

Autumn in Paris, in the garden of the Rodin Museum, is pretty close to heaven, if you ask me.

[5]UPDATE: OK, yes, how the hell could I have forgotten Michelangelo and Bernini? Here’s why:


9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "View From Your Table"

#1 Comment By JonF On October 16, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

If I recall correctly (history that is– I wasn’t there 🙂 the executions of the Calais magistrates never happened, and perhaps was never intended. Instead Queen Philippa, heavy with child, interceded with her husband Edward to spare their lives in a touching set piece that looks to have been rehearsed.

#2 Comment By Oengus On October 16, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

You looked like a real literati, that picture in the garden of the Musée Rodin. I thought it was a pretty good picture.

#3 Comment By Kale Zelden On October 16, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

I’m not sure it is prudent to skip over Bernini.

#4 Comment By pilgrim On October 16, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

Is that a wheelchair in the view from the table? I was wondering how handicap accessible these places are, given their age.

#5 Comment By Carlo On October 16, 2012 @ 11:17 pm

“It’s funny, but for me, the history of sculpture stops with the Greeks, and begins again with Rodin”

Tragic more than funny. How can man stand in front of most pieces by Tilman Riemenschneider without being moved to tears? Or not be amazed by young Bernini’s works in the Borghese Gallery? Michelangelo was not bad either….

#6 Comment By Kris D On October 17, 2012 @ 12:54 am

Umm, Michelangelo & Bernini weren’t exactly chopped liver in the sculpture department.

#7 Comment By Rod Dreher On October 17, 2012 @ 1:39 am

Yes, yes, Bernini and Michelangelo. How could I have left them out? I deserve y’all’s scorn. Look at the update above — the photo — for how I feel about this.

#8 Comment By Glenn Marsch On October 17, 2012 @ 11:08 am

Rod, I have greatly enjoyed your “View From Your Table” photographs, and now your travelogue about your France vacation. This entry on Rodin hits home, because the Cleveland Museum of Art has a “Rodin Room” in which are displayed a number of Rodin sculptures and they are, of course, magnificent. It is a solace to the soul merely being in the presence of such art.

My favorite Rodin sculpture at the Cleveland Museum is part of the “Burgher of Calais” series, and it is a bust of Pierre de Wiessant. What pathos!

Rod, if you think it is appropriate to post this, you and your readers may enjoy these images at my Flickr set [7]. (The Museum gave me permission to post these on my Flickr photostream and I don’t make any money from them.) The image of the Rodin Room is at [8] and the close-up of the bust of Pierre de Wiessant is at [9].

Keep up the good work!

#9 Comment By Irenist On October 17, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

During my undergrad semester abroad, I used to live a few blocks from the Rodin museum. Despite being far too much of a philistine, and knowing naught more of the Hundred Years’ War than that it was between England and France, I remember my ignorant undergrad self looking at the “Burghers of Calais” and, without knowing anything of their story, thinking it was one of the most moving things I’d ever seen.