Auguste Rodin, “Jean de Feinnes”

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Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), Jean de Fiennes (Study for The Burghers of Calais), 1885–1886, plaster, 18⅛” x 7½” x 5½”. Gift of Samuel Hill, 1938.01.0165.

Jean de Fiennes is one of six figures that comprise Auguste Rodin’s monumental The Burghers of Calais. The work was commissioned by the city of Calais in 1884 and completed eleven years later.

This c. 1860 composition by Julia Margaret Cameron is titled Queen Philippa Interceding for the Burghers of Calais.

Rodin’s sculpture memorializes six leading citizens of Calais who volunteered to be put to death in order to end the siege of their town by the English king, Edward III. In the record of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453) that appears in Jean Froissart’s Chronicles, only four of Calais’ famous burghers are mentioned by name. The identities of Jean de Fiennes and Andrieu d’Andres were discovered in the Vatican Library in 1863.

In 1347, Jean de Fiennes was captain of the town of Calais. After a six-month siege, Jean opened the city gates and—with five of his peers—came into the presence of Edward III. Jean offered the king the keys to the city and a request for mercy and pardon for Calais’ citizens. Edward accepted the offer and, through the intervention of the English queen, Philippa of Hainault, he ultimately spared the lives of the burghers. Rodin perceived Jean de Fiennes to be the youngest member of the group and he is portrayed with a youthful body and long, wavy hair.