Towering Genius

Detail, The Burghers of Calais by Rodin, Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden

In general, you’re not going to see a lot of photographs of works of art here. Works of art are wonderful, and to be appreciated in their own right of course, but I’m trying to feature things that we might not otherwise presume to think of as beautiful or might overlook in the ordinary course of things.

No one is going to overlook Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. It is a renowned and astonishing masterpiece that memorializes unheroic-looking heroism. (This detail is of the version in the Sculpture Garden at the Hirschhorn Museum here in DC.) I have seen this piece numerous times: here, in Paris, and in London. It is brilliant in design and execution, and it had a significant impact on our understanding of what monumental sculpture could and should be. My parents, both sculptors, were huge fans of Rodin and their own work was significantly influenced by his style.

Today, however, this sculpture had an unexpectedly personal effect upon me. The central figure of the grouping, shown here, bears a striking resemblance to my father toward the end of his life. Thanks to this work of art, I now have this icon of sacrificial nobility overlaid and superimposed upon my memories of my father, whose last years were sad and difficult. Rodin is helping me to mourn in a new and more gracious way, and for that I’m grateful.

This is the gift that great art can give to hearts and minds: to see the world in a different, richer, and more beautiful way.

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