Having always had an interest in sculptures, I decided to look through the works of traditional and modern day sculptors. While doing so, the pieces of Auguste Rodin caught my attention, particularly, his collection called “The Gates of Hell.” Rodin had originally begun this project by request of French Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts, Jules Ferry. However, what had started as a project for this little-known artist, turned into a life-long, career defining masterpiece.
Born in Paris, November 12, 1840, Francois Auguste Rene Rodin was the son of a minor police official. The majority of his childhood and adolescence was spent drawing and sculpting. When he was denied entrance into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, he worked in partnership with Beligain artist van Ras-bourgh. Over the course of his adulthood, Rodin used his talent in decorative art to support his family. During this time, Rodin continuously submitted his work in competitions for exhibition, but to no avail. A major turning point for Rodin was when he received the request to create a pair of bronze doors for a new arts museum in Paris. From this Rodin began his nearly 40 year project of “The Gates of Hell”
Rodin initially found inspiration for the double doors in Inferno, the first installment of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. He spent an entire year trying to understand Dante through sketches and drawings. Rodin was motivated by the freedom and expressivity of the Inferno and modeled his creation in light of that. Due to this type of freedom, Rodin heavily experimented with emotional and sexual expression through his figures.
Within this collection is Rodin’s most renowned creation: The Thinker. Due to its lack of context or anecdotal cues, the message behind the sculpture is forever open-ended. This was intentionally done by Rodin; he wanted his pieces to be individually interpreted. Rodin did, however, offer some insight into his thought process when creating The Thinker:
“What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils, and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”
Rodin has a particular appreciation for the power of the creative mind.
Unfortunately, Rodin’s life-long creation was never cast in bronze because the museum was never erected. The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia currently possesses the first bronze cast of The Gates of Hell, received in 1925.
I chose to work on this project of Rodin’s because I am fascinated not only with the artistic skill with which it was made, but also in the historical and literary connections made within it. Auguste Rodin was simply asked to make a bronze door for a new museum, but instead, he decided to use that request as an opportunity for expression of his thoughts and human nature. The Gates of Hell, in my opinion, is a powerful piece of art that demonstrates Rodin’s exceptional artisanship.
Rodin's Sculpture. A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection. California Palace of the Legion of Honor by Jacques de Caso; Patricia B. Sanders; Rodin Rediscovered by Albert E. Elsen
The Gates of Hell. Elsen, Albert. Stanford University Press, Stanford CA. 1985.