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The Cathedral Is Dying

Part of ekphrasis
Contributions by Rachel Corbett / Translated by Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler
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Master sculptor Auguste Rodin’s illuminating writings on cathedrals in France are especially relevant and significant following the recent fire at Notre Dame. 

In this volume, the writer and Rodin scholar Rachel Corbett selects excerpts from the famous sculptor’s book Cathedrals of France, first published in 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I. Cathedrals were central to the way Rodin thought about his art: he saw them as visual metaphors for the human figure, among the finest examples of craftsmanship known to modern man, and as a model for how to live and work—slowly, brick by brick. 

Here, Corbett takes the fire at Notre Dame and the concerns over its restoration as an entry point in an exploration of Rodin's cathedrals. Rodin adamantly opposed restoration, as he felt it often did more damage than the original injury. (Many of the cathedrals that Rodin looks at in his texts were, in fact, bombed during the war.) But while he rails against various restoration efforts as evidence that “we are letting our cathedrals die,” the book, with its tenderly rendered sketches and written portraits, is itself an attempt to preserve these cathedrals. The selection of texts in this volume is a reminder—as is the tragedy of Notre Dame—of why we ought to appreciate these feats of architecture, whether or not they are still standing today.

Recent Press on Rachel Corbett:

“This empathetic and imaginative biography, deeply researched, is anchored by the friendship between [Rilke and Rodin].”

– The New Yorker

“Rachel Corbett, as any fine artist, has produced a work of great effect, and leaves a lasting and indelible mark on the reader.”

– NPR

“In honeyed, knowing prose, Rachel Corbett twines two great serpents of art: the suppleness of Rodin’s malleable flesh and eroticism and Rilke’s endless lyrical rivers. New portals of aesthetic intonations open; invisible elements come into sight.”

– Jerry Saltz, New York Magazine

“Takes readers deep into the literary and art worlds of the beginning of the 20th century. . . . A must-read.”

– Alanna Martinez, Observer

More books in this series: ekphrasis