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Learning History Through Art

Learning history through art: the Burghers of Calais

Do you know the story of the Burghers of Calais? In 1347, England had placed the French Port of Calais under siege. The siege lasted for over a year, and the residents were starving. King Edward of England offered to spare their lives if six of their leaders would surrender to him. Eustache de Saint Pierre, one of the wealthiest leaders in the town, was the first to surrender, and five other men volunteered to join him, leaving the town for likely death. King Edward ordered them to leave the town with nooses around their necks, carrying the keys to the city and the castle. Edward’s wife, Philippa of Hainault, convinced her husband to spare their lives for the sake of their unborn child.

I love this story, both because of the sacrifice of the six burghers and the queen’s merciful intercession for their sake. We visited Stanford campus on Saturday, and the kids were able to see Rodin’s sculptures of the six burghers who offered up their lives. Rodin was actually criticized for these sculptures, because critics felt that they were not heroic enough – showing pain and anguish. These powerful human emotions are actually my favorite part of the sculptures. The above photo of Emma shows that Rodin’s sculpting taught her about the sacrifice found within this story in a way that no heroic statue could.

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Relentlessly Fun  Deceptively Educational, This Reading Mama

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MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

16 thoughts on “Learning History Through Art”

  1. That’s so cool, MaryAnne. We take our kids to museums, but I admit, we don’t get nearly that detailed with what the actual art is. Instead, we’re chasing kids around or doing a quick walk through the exhibits. So far we’ve had better luck with hands-on exhibits more than studying works of art. Hopefully once they grow up some more we can do that!

  2. Cindy @ the Art Curator for Kids

    Rodin is magic! I love that artwork. So powerful. I wonder how many he made, because we have one at one of the museums here in Dallas as well.

    1. French law states that only 12 casts can be made from any of Rodin’s works. The one we visiting (on Stanford University campus) has the figures as individual casts; most museums has them cast as one single piece (the same figures, but a single base). Is that the version you have in your museum in Dallas?

  3. jeannine: waddleeahchaa

    Oh my gosh I love that picture! Fabulous!
    We love art museums. We are always wowed!

  4. Elisa | blissfulE

    That photo of Emma melts my heart. How wonderful that you told her the story so she could empathise with the pain of those men who left their homes.

    There is a little sculpture garden of Rodin’s work in Paris that I love love love. I think of that garden rather than the Eiffel Tower when I think back on my Paris trips!

    1. I love that photo of Emma. If you are ever in the California Bay Area, you should definitely check out Stanford’s Rodin sculpture garden. It is amazing!

  5. I’ve got a BA in art history so your experience with Rodin’s sculptures totally makes me smile. I love that you’re exposing your kids to art and using it as a way for them to connect with the past!

  6. Great post! I took art history in college, it was intense and that is what it was, world history told though art! I think I would enjoy it so much more today then I did back then :-)

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