The Cathedral Is Dying

Text by Auguste Rodin. Introduction by Rachel Corbett. Translated by Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler

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.


Publisher: David Zwirner Books

Artists: ekphrasis

Contributors: Auguste Rodin, Rachel Corbett, Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler

Designer: Michael Dyer, Remake

Printer: VeronaLibri, Italy

Publication Date: 2020

Binding: Softcover

Dimensions: 4 1/4 × 7 in | 10.8 × 17.8 cm

Pages: 96

ISBN: 9781644230466

Retail: $15 | $20 CAN | £10.95

Status: Available


Dedicated to publishing rare, out-of-print, and newly commissioned texts as accessible paperback volumes the ekphrasis series is part of David Zwirner Books’s ongoing effort to publish new and surprising pieces of writing on visual culture.

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Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) is known for an innovative sculptural style in which the traces of his working process are conserved in the works’ final form. His career began in Brussels and later shifted to Paris, where he undertook public commissions that dovetailed with academic trends affirming clarity in sculptural language. These afforded him the support to pursue bolder aesthetic experimentation in private. Rodin’s attention to partial figures and fragmentation and his privileging of emotive pathos over allegory are hallmarks of his groundbreaking and influential style.

Rachel Corbett

Rachel Corbett is the author of You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, which won the 2016 Marfield Prize, the National Award for Arts Writing. Her essays and journalism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, New York magazine, and other publications. She wrote the introduction to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Painter (2017), published by David Zwirner Books.

Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler

Elisabeth Chase Geissbuhler was twenty years old when she moved to Paris from Boston to study sculpture under Antoine Bourdelle. Bourdelle, who was fond of Geissbuhler, had been Rodin’s close friend and collaborator. When Geissbuhler translated Rodin’s Cathedrals of France in 1965, she was already a recognized Rodin scholar. She continued her exploration of Rodin and his philosophical and artistic influences until her death in 2001.