Progression of Art
The Age of Bronze
A young officer was the model for this sculpture, which provided the first great succès de scandale, or "success of a scandal," of Rodin's career. The composition and rough surface of the figure were unconventional by academic standards. The subject also remained obscure - the title only vaguely suggesting classical art - and prompted confusion among critics; rather than clothe his image of man in respected symbolism, Rodin had presented a common man, naked. But controversy ultimately centered on allegations that the piece was a direct cast from the body rather than a modeled sculpture. The allegations were a testament to Rodin's technical skills, though the suggestion that he had somehow cheated heartily offended the sculptor, who was able to disprove the claim with photographs of his model.
Bronze - Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Gates of Hell
Rodin labored on this mammoth project for over twenty years. It was commissioned in 1880 as a set of doors for the planned Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, but the museum never came to be, and he never finished the sculpture to his satisfaction. It is believed that Rodin chose to draw on Dante's Inferno for the subject matter. It was a deliberate attempt to rival Lorenzo Ghiberti's famous bronze doors for the Baptistery of Florence Cathedral, the Gates of Paradise (1425-52), the competition for which is often said to have initiated the Renaissance. Rodin initially planned to split the composition into a series of panels, just as Ghiberti had done, but after looking at images of Michelangelo's Last Judgment (1534-41), he opted for a more fluid arrangement of figures. When the plans for the museum were cancelled, Rodin's urge to complete the sculpture waned, and work dragged on. He exhibited a plaster version of the sculpture at an exhibition at the Place de l'Alma in Paris in 1900, but it was not until 1925, eight years after his death, that two bronze casts were created.
Bronze - Rodin Museum
Although The Gates of Hell was never completed to Rodin's satisfaction in his own lifetime, his work on the project did inspire many other finished works, and The Thinker is the most famous example. Deriving from a figure at the top of the sculpture who gazes with melancholy over the hellish scenes below him, he represents Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy that inspired The Gates of Hell (1899). Highly influenced by Michelangelo, the figure also represents modern, secular man - strong in mind and body, but lonely and doubtful in the position he has created for himself as master of his own universe. Although the seated figure is deeply lost in thought, the dynamic pose gives him a sense of movement. At first glance, the pose appears natural, but in fact the man's right arm on his left knee is twisted in an exaggerated fashion. Over fifty casts were made of this sculpture, which are today scattered throughout the world, making it one of Rodin's most famous works. Rodin also chose The Thinker as his tombstone.
Bronze - Musée Rodin, Paris
Critics gave this sculpture the title The Kiss, but Rodin originally called it Paolo and Francesca, after the story in Dante's Divine Comedy about a young noblewoman who falls in love with her husband's brother. In the story, the couple is killed by the jealous husband, but Rodin focuses instead on their loving embrace. This erotic sculpture was made during the early years of Rodin's relationship with Camille Claudel. It was probably intended to figure in The Gates of Hell. It is not known why these figures were not ultimately included; they do not exhibit the same despair as other figures in the composition, and so Rodin may have concluded that they were ill-suited. Rodin believed in making his work as widely available as possible, and he produced numerous versions of his most popular works, ensuring his fame with future generations. Over 300 bronze copies of The Kiss had been produced by Rodin's death in 1917.
Marble - Victoria & Albert Museum
Burghers of Calais
Rodin won a commission from the town of Calais to portray the group of heroic city leaders who sacrificed themselves in 1347 to save the town from a siege by the English King Edward III. Although earlier artists had focused on the oldest man, Rodin included all six of them. The figures are arranged all on one level, rejecting the "pyramid" composition typical of figure groups at the time. The men look downtrodden, but determined. They are dressed in rags, and their hands and feet are expressively enlarged. However, their awkward appearance did not suggest the heroic dimension that the town had envisioned, and the sculpture was accepted with some hesitation and compromise. Today, however, it remains well-loved as an emblem of civic sacrifice, with one version standing outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
Bronze - Installed in the Town of Calais
Rodin received the commission to memorialize the great French novelist and poet in 1891. However, as with so many of Rodin's commissions, the work dragged on and on while Rodin struggled to settle on a composition. He spent years reading Balzac's poems, finding pictures of him and models who bore a resemblance to the heavy-set man. Finally, he placed the proud head on top of a body swathed in a huge, shapeless robe and made a mound-like protrusion at his crotch as a reference to his virility. Inevitably, the Société des Gens de Lettres, who had commissioned the sculpture, was displeased, and the cast was rejected. Only in 1930 were two bronze copies made of the piece, and in 1939 one was installed in Paris at the intersection of the boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse.
Bronze - Museum of Modern Art, New York