1. Young-Mason, Jeanine EdD, RN, CS, FAAN

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One day while sitting in the garden of Musee Rodin in Paris enjoying the sculptures, I witnessed an event that gave me a deeper appreciation for Rodin's art than I ever could have expected. A teacher entered the garden with senior students from a community center for the blind. She began talking quietly to the students as they gathered alongside Rodin's sculpture "The Burghers of Calais."* She was narrating the story of six burghers of Calais who offered to sacrifice their lives to save the citizens of Calais from starvation during the Hundred Years War. "It is this event," she said, "in 1347 from which Rodin drew inspiration for his depiction of the Burghers." She then invited the students to study, by touch, the six men. And so they did, hesitantly at first, and then enthusiastically as they swept their hands over the bodies, and hands of the Burghers. I could tell by the look of pleasure on the student's faces that they were discovering clues to the emotional state of each man. Reading the men's gestures by touch, they were drawn from one man to the next traversing the whole ensemble of the six. Some students examined the position of the Burgher's feet and posture. "You must climb up onto the base of the sculpture so that you can read the men's faces," she wisely told the students. As they touched the faces of the Burghers, I saw intense emotion on their own faces. Some climbed down and stood close to the sculpture. One student grasped the hand of the youngest Burgher.


I imagined that they discovered Rodin's theory of the expressiveness of the human image: "Generally the face alone is considered to be the mirror of the soul: the mobility of the features of the face seems to use the unique exteriorization of the spiritual life. In reality, there is not one muscle of the body that does not express variations within. Each speaks of joy or sadness, enthusiasm or despair, calm, or rage. Outstretched arms, an unrestrained torso can smile with as much sweetness as eyes or lips, But in order to be able to interpret all aspects of the flesh, one must be trained patiently in the spelling and reading of the pages of this beautiful book." (Art: Conversations With Paul Gsell. Translated by deCaso J, Sanders PB. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 1984:10)


These powerful representations of the complex states of sorrow, fear, resignation, quiet rage, and disbelief stir memories of interactions not quite understood, behaviors unexplained, personal losses endured, and sacrifices made on behalf of others. It may be comforting and disquieting to be reminded that these bewildering moments are common to humanity throughout time. (Young-Mason J. States of Exile: Correspondences Between Art, Literature and Nursing. New York: National League for Nursing Press; 1995)


The photograph of the Burghers of Calais was taken by the author and first appeared in her essay "Visual Clues to Emotional States: Rodin's Burghers of Calais" Journal of Professional Nursing, Vol 6, No 5, 1990.

Burghers of Calais, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowBurghers of Calais, bronze 1884 by Rodin

Pierre-Auguste Rodin was commissioned in 1884 by the Municipal Council of Calais, France, to design a monument to honor the secular martyrdom of the Burghers of Calais. These six men had offered their lives as a sacrifice in 1347 to end the 11-month siege of Calais by King Edward III of England during the Hundred Years War.


Castings of "The Burghers of Calais" can be found in Calais and Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; Basel Switzerland; Los Angeles, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Copenhagen, Denmark; London, England; and Tokyo, Japan. [Context Link]