Rodin designed this figure as one of six colossal statues forming a monument to a group of fourteenth-century citizens of the northern French town of Calais. The six men had offered themselves as hostages to induce the English to lift a siege and spare their starving city. When modern Calais, about to tear down its medieval walls, decided to erect a monument reaffirming its ancient identity, Rodin pursued the commission eagerly and won it in 1884.
Rodin's burghers, following the conqueror's orders, are stripped down to their shirts, with halters around their necks and the keys to the city in their hands as a sign of submission. The sculptor portrayed the men as they were leaving their town for the English camp, where they expected execution. Rodin conceived the burghers less as ideally noble heroes than as ordinary men, ragged and emaciated after the ordeal of the siege, each experiencing a personal confrontation with death.
Jean d'Aire, his gaunt body visible through the sides of his shirt, stands upright as a pillar, with squared shoulders, massive clenched hands, and a stoically set jaw. In his bony face and sunken eyes one can read what his sacrifice is costing.
More information on this object can be found in the Gallery publication European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/european-sculpture-19th-century.pdf