Over the years, the sculptor who moved me most was Auguste Rodin, whose Burgers of Calais continues to symbolize for me the heights of human greatness. The work commemorates the men of the French city of Calais, who in 1347 responded to the offer of the victorious English king who had besieged their city but promised not to destroy it if there were six volunteers who would come forth to die on behalf of their fellows. As things turned out, the valor of the six inspired royal mercy, and none was put to death.
The life of the artist, however, is marred by many questionable relations with women. The very mix of good and evil is instructive, since our strengths and weaknesses are so intimately linked, and there is a continuum between the immoral, the immature, the moral according to social custom, and the magnificently moral. Rodin regarded woman as rebellious and fallen temptress, and as life-giving, inspiring, and saving. To Helène von Hindenburg he wrote, “God is too great to send us direct inspiration; he takes precautions relative to our weakness and sends us earthly angels. . . . For an artist, a soft woman is his most powerful dispatch, she is holy, she rises up in our heart, in our genius, and in our force, she is a divine sower who sows love in our hearts in order that we can put it back a hundred times into our work.” Rodin’s passion for woman was inextricably interwoven with his passion for other themes that animated his career: beauty, nature, life, mystery, creation, and love.
Many people do not expect moral conduct of artists, whose gifts carry them beyond mere social conformity. Clearly a life in which truth, beauty, and goodness are not maturely integrated can express intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual value. Nevertheless, the question remains open whether their works might have been still greater had they achieved a finer integration of these values in their lives.
“RodinSelfportrait” by Auguste Rodin – A.M. Matveeva, “Rodin”, Iskusstvo, Moscow, 1962. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RodinSelfportrait.jpg#mediaviewer/File:RodinSelfportrait.jpg
“Auguste Rodin-Burghers of Calais London (photo)”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auguste_Rodin-Burghers_of_Calais_London_(photo).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Auguste_Rodin-Burghers_of_Calais_London_(photo).jpg