Collective Anxiety

"If you actually get into that shape, you feel anxiety build in your body."—Sam Pinkleton, theater director

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). The Burghers of Calais, modeled 1884–95, cast 1985. Bronze. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, 1989 (1989.407). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Sam Pinkleton: There's such a spectrum of gesture and of facial expression in this piece. And the leader, the man holding the big key, to me, is in this shape of total resignation. You don't get a sense of muscle from him. You don't get a sense of movement. It feels like he could have been standing there for ten minutes or an hour.

Jennifer Morris: I was drawn to him because of the rigidity of his body; while the face looked very stoic, you could see the emotion that was happening. I noticed that I stopped breathing, which seemed appropriate for the subject matter of the sculpture.

Sam Pinkleton: This pose is so physically vivid. The hands are on the head, but the fingers are pressing down and the shoulders are raising up. And if you actually get into that shape, you feel anxiety build in your body.

Quincy Tyler Bernstine: The hands are so enlarged, it was interesting to try to take up that space. I mean, obviously it's impossible to do, and that adds a lot of tension to the body, actually trying to imitate that bigness.

Sam Pinkleton: I think one of the most amazing things about gesture is if you really embody it in a specific way, you begin to feel the feeling of the sculpture. And as you live in that, it makes it feel real, makes it feel like an actual emotion, makes it feel like a human, versus a blank gesture.

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