The Intersection Between Nationalism and Religion: The Burghers of Calais of Auguste Rodin
Hargrove, June Ellen
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As a republican, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) conveyed political ideology in his public sculpture, but due to his interest in religion and spirituality, his interpretations differed from contemporary artists. He grafted national myths and symbols onto Catholicism and its rituals to facilitate the sacralization of the Republic. Yet, the tension between Catholicism and republicanism in his work persisted because of his religiosity and his adherence to secularism. Rodin's conflict and compromise between the two fields were not only his personal dilemma, but also that of the Third Republic. This dissertation focuses on how Rodin internalized republican ideology in his public sculpture, and how he appropriated Catholic ritual to promote political messages. In spite of the republican government's constant struggle to separate from Catholic domination, Catholicism was so deeply imbedded in French culture, Rodin recognized this complex paradigm which he co-opted to construct an ideological matrix for his public work. Aware of the powerful social role of religion, the First Republic tried to create a new religion based on deistic tradition, The Cult of Supreme Being, to unite all French people who were severely divided by factions, languages, and regionalism. This precedent tradition further proved the importance of religion's social reach in constructing national sentiment. Based on research in Rodin museums in Paris and Meudon in 2004 and 2006, this study examines how Rodin merged Catholic practices and contemporary social ideologies into the fiber of nationalist identity that served to reconcile political oppositions in France and to heal wounded civic pride after the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. Similar to the public sphere proposed by Jürgen Habermas, Rodin's public sculpture suggests ideal democratic communicative field. <italic>The Burghers of Calais</italic> is a prime example of the republican ideal of heroic martyrdom. At the same time, its overall form, figural arrangement, and poignant expressions invoke the Catholic practice of pilgrimage, drawing the audience into the scene's emotional landscape. This interpretation of <italic>The Burghers of Calais</italic> as a religious and psychological catharsis paves the way for public sculpture to function as a healing tool to rebuild personal and national subjectivity.