A little-known fact of the Bay Area is the extensive collection of sculpture by Auguste Rodin at Stanford University. Outside of The Quad is a replica of one of Rodin's most powerful works, The Burghers of Calais. With text from the Metropolitan Museum, here is the story of the Burghers:
In 1885 the town council of the French city of Calais commissioned Rodin to produce a sculpture that would pay tribute to the burghers of Calais, heroes of the Hundred Years’ War and symbols of French patriotism.
In 1347, according to the fourteenth-century Chronicles of Jean Froissart, King Edward III of England laid siege to the French town of Calais. After eleven months, with the people desperately short of food and water, six of the leading citizens, or burghers, of Calais offered themselves as hostages to Edward in exchange for the freedom of their city. The king agreed, ordering them to dress in plain garments, wear nooses around their necks, and journey to his camp bearing the keys to the city. Although the king intended to kill the burghers, his pregnant wife, Philippa, persuaded him to spare them, believing that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.
The story of the burghers of Calais appears in the work of earlier artists, most of whom focused on the single figure of Eustache de Saint-Pierre. Rodin, however, decided to include all six burghers. He had read Froissart’s Chronicles and elected to use the text as the basis for his sculpture.
Froissart describes how each man, a rich and well-respected citizen, announces his intention to offer himself as a hostage to King Edward III. Froissart then writes of the men’s departure after removing the fine clothing that would have identified them as wealthy citizens, wearing instead their “shirts and breeches” (undergarments).
Rodin chooses to portray the moment in the narrative when the men, believing they are going to die, leave the city. He shows the burghers as vulnerable and conflicted, yet heroic in the face of their likely fate.