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Video clip synopsis – It's the small lively clay studies for the bronze civic monuments Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin and Monument to the Republic by Jules Dalou that bring us closer to the artists themselves.
Year of production - 2006
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - art, artists, design, sculpture, see all tags


From Clay Maquette to Bronze

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About the Video Clip


From Clay Maquette to Bronze is an episode of the series Hidden Treasures (15 × 5 mins) produced in 2006.

The National Gallery of Australia has more than 100,000 works in its collection—an extraordinary reservoir of creative vision and cultural history, from decorative arts to photography and sculpture.

Yet on a visit to the gallery, you’ll see only the tip of this iceberg. Carefully stored away are the things that can’t be placed on permanent display.

These unseen gems include works of exquisite fragility, from brilliant hand-painted fabrics to delicate works on paper. From Australia, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Oceania, there are masks and carvings, lithographs and linocuts, set designs and stage costumes, sketchpads and handprinted books, marionettes and maquettes, teapots and textiles, and much, much more.

Now in this series of micro-docs, former director of the gallery Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of these 'hidden treasures’.

In the entertaining, accessible style for which she is renowned, Betty Churcher takes us behind the scenes, sharing with us her passion and insights. From her unique vantage point, she makes intriguing connections between a range of different objects and artists, linking them to the stories that surround them.

These are fascinating tales—about the works themselves, the people who created them and the challenge of preserving them—and a tantalising look at some of the ideas and influences that have shaped modern art across the globe.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Full program credits

Curriculum Focus


Outcome 1
Students should be able to source ideas and inspiration and use a variety of methods to translate these into visual form.

Outcome 3
Students should be able to discuss how artists from different times and locations have interrupted sources of inspiration and used materials and techniques in the production of artworks.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


In 1884 the Municipal Council of Calais commissioned Auguste Rodin to commemorate six historical heroes of the city. These were the governors, or burghers, who gave up their lives to save their fellow citizens after Calais fell to the English in the 14th century. Dressed in sackcloth with nooses around their necks, they went to the English camp to surrender the key to the city gate and offered their lives in exchange for the usual rape and carnage that followed a medieval defeat.

The six figures in Burghers of Calais were cast in bronze from clay models. There were several casts taken, and while the original is in Calais, four of the figures are in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection, along with models and studies used in their development. Rodin did not want a conventional interpretation for this commission. He wanted to show the human drama, with each burgher isolated by the fear of dying. At first he thought of lining them up but later decided to place them so they all could be seen clearly from any angle. He wanted them standing on the ground, not on a pedestal, so they could rub shoulders with the people of Calais. Rodin usually modelled in clay, and you can see from the maquette in the gallery’s collection how he has moulded the form with his hands before it was cast in bronze. As with a painter’s sketch, the sculptor’s study (or maquette) puts us in touch with the artist and their thoughts.

Also at the National Gallery is a study for another municipal monument, dedicated to the Republic of France, in the Place de la Nation in Paris. This tiny terracotta figure represents artist Jules Dalou’s first thought for the figure personifying the republic. It has none of the details of the finished work but it is extraordinarily personable and vulnerable, retaining the intimacy of the moment.

Rodin’s Burghers of Calais was inaugurated in 1895 and Dalou’s Monument to the Republic in 1899. Although the completed bronzes might look back to the 19th century, to the great tradition of European sculpture, to Donatello and Michelangelo, it is the small clay moulded maquettes that bring us closer to the artists themselves and seem to look forward to the 20th century, the hallmark of which turned out to be self-expression.

Classroom Activities

  1. Research and discuss the historical events that took place between the Mayor of Calais and Auguste Rodin over the maquette of Burghers of Calais.
  2. As stated by Betty Churcher, Auguste Rodin’s original idea for the group of burghers did not include a pedestal. He thought it would be more impressive if it was set at ground level, to emphasise ‘the look of misery and the drama of the sacrifice’. What other aesthetics of the sculpture were the Calais mayoral committee disappointed with and why did they demand several modifications?
  3. Sculptors primarily use the techniques of carving, modelling, casting, construction and assemblage. Some of the processes are subtractive, where material is removed, while others are additive, where material is added.
    1. Subtractive method activity: View Rodin’s Gates of Hell; focusing on his use of both positive and negative space in his composition, create relief artworks using any of the following materials: limestone, soap, wood, herbal stone, clay. Carve into and remove material to create your finished piece.
    2. Additive method activity: View Rodin’s dancing figures, which focus on movement and rhythm, then create a wire figure in motion. Several line drawings should be completed to develop the gesture of the figure. The figure may be of any scale, however the larger the figure the larger the wire gauge needs to be. For this activity you should note joining, cutting and whipping techniques and the necessary safety requirements associated with the materials. Extension of this artwork may include plaster or Modroc being draped on or added to the form.

Further Resources


M. Laurent, Rodin, Konecky & Konecky, New York, 1989

Rodin Museum

WebMuseum, Paris: Rodin, Auguste