The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell (French: La Porte de l'Enfer) is a monumental sculptural group work by French artist Auguste Rodin that depicts a scene from the Inferno, the first section of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. It stands at 6 metres high, 4 metres wide and 1 metre deep (19.7×13.1×3.3 ft) and contains 180 figures. The figures range from 15 centimetres (6 in) high up to more than one metre (3 ft). Several of the figures were also cast independently by Rodin.
The sculpture was commissioned by the Directorate of Fine Arts in 1880 and was meant to be delivered in 1885. Rodin would continue to work on and off on this project for 37 years, until his death in 1917.
The Directorate asked for an inviting entrance to a planned Decorative Arts Museum with the theme being left to Rodin's selection. Even before this commission, Rodin had developed sketches of some of Dante's characters based on his admiration of Dante's Inferno.
The Decorative Arts Museum was never built. Rodin worked on this project on the ground floor of the Hôtel Biron. Near the end of his life, Rodin donated sculptures, drawings and reproduction rights to the French government. In 1919, two years after his death, The Hôtel Biron became the Musée Rodin housing a cast of The Gates of Hell and related works.
Inspiration for The Gates of Hell
A work of the scope of The Gates of Hell had not been attempted before, but inspiration came from Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise at the Baptistery of St. John, Florence; the 15th century bronze doors depict figures from the Old Testament. Another source of inspiration was medieval cathedrals; some of those combine both high and low relief. Rodin was also inspired by Michelangelo's fresco The Last Judgment, Delacroix's painting The Barque of Dante, Balzac's collection La Comédie humaine and Baudelaire's poems Les Fleurs du mal.
In an article by Serge Basset printed in Le Matin in 1890, Rodin said: "For a whole year I lived with Dante, with him alone, drawing the circles of his inferno. At the end of this year, I realized that while my drawing rendered my vision of Dante, they had become too remote from reality. So I started all over again, working from nature, with my models."
The original sculptures were enlarged and became works of art of their own.
- The Thinker (Le Penseur), also called The Poet, is located above the door panels. One interpretation suggests that it might represent Dante looking down to the characters in the Inferno. Another interpretation is that the Thinker is Rodin himself meditating about his composition. Others believe that the figure may be Adam, contemplating the destruction brought upon mankind because of his sin.
- The Kiss (Le Baiser) was originally in The Gate along with other figures of Paolo and Francesca da Rimini. Rodin wanted to represent their initial joy as well as their final damnation. He removed the figure that became known as The Kiss because it seemed to conflict with the other suffering figures.
- Ugolino and His Children (Ugolin et ses enfants) depicts Ugolino della Gherardesca, who according to the story, ate the corpses of his children after they died by starvation (Dante, Inferno, Canto XXXIII). The Ugolino group was cast as a separate bronze in 1882.
- The Three Shades (Les Trois Ombres) was originally 98 cm high. The over-life size group was initially made of three independent figures in 1899. Later on, Rodin replaced one hand in the figures to fuse them together, in the same form as the smaller version. The figures originally pointed to the phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" ("Abandon all hope, ye who enter here") from Canto III of the Inferno.
- Fleeting Love (Fugit Amor) is located on the right door pane, it is one of several figures of lovers that represent Paolo and Francesca da Rimini. The male figure is also called The Prodigal.
- Paolo and Francesca is shown on the left door pane. Paolo tries to reach Francesca, who seems to slip away.
- Meditation appears on the rightmost part of the tympanum, shown as an enlarged figure in 1896.
- The Old Courtesan is a bronze cast from 1910 of an aged, naked female body. The sculpture is also called She Who Was Once the Helmet-Maker's Beautiful Wife (Celle qui fut la belle heaulmière). This title is taken from a poem by François Villon.
- Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone is based on the figure at the top of the left pilaster. Around 1881 Rodin enlarged her and gave her a stone.
- I Am Beautiful (Je suis belle), cast in 1882, is among the second set of figures on the extreme right portion of the door.
- Eternal Springtime (L'Éternel printemps) was cast in 1884. It exists in several separate versions, both in marble and in bronze.
- Adam and Eve. Rodin asked the directorate for additional funds for the independent sculptures of Adam and Eve that were meant to frame The Gates of Hell. However, Rodin found he could not get Eve's figure right. Consequently, several figures of Eve were made, none of which were used, and all of them were later sold.
|Rodin's The Gates of Hell, Smarthistory|
|The Gates of Hell, The story of a damned artwork , Canal Educatif|
The plaster original was restored in 1917 and is displayed at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. A series of plaster casts illustrating the development of the work is on view at the Musée Rodin in Meudon. Also in 1917, a model was used to make the original three bronze casts:
- The Musée Rodin, Paris.
- The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park, Tokyo.
Subsequent bronzes have been distributed by the Musée Rodin to a number of locations, including:
- The Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich
- The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University
- The Plateau, Seoul, Korea
- Museo Soumaya, Mexico City
- Elsen, Albert E. (1963). Rodin. New York: Museum of Modern Art. p. 35.
- Musée Rodin, La Porte de l'Enfer (French)
- Musée Rodin
- Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette (1999). Rodin:The Gates of Hell. Paris: Musée Rodin. ISBN 2-901428-69-X.
- Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone at the Met
- "Rodin's The Gates of Hell". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- "The Gates of Hell, The story of a damned artwork". Canal Educatif. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
- "The Gates of Hell". Musée Rodin. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
- "The Gates of Hell". The National Museum of Western Art. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
- Chevillot, Catherine; Marraud, Hélène; Pinet, Hélène; Adamson, John (transl.) (November 2014). Rodin: The Laboratory of Creation. Dijon: Éditions Faton. ISBN 9782878442007.
- Le Normand-Romain, Antoinette (September 2014). Rodin. New York: Abbeville. ISBN 9780789212078.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Gates of Hell.|
- La Porte de l'Enfer, a tool for exploring The Gates of Hell by the Musée Rodin
- Rodin: The B. Gerald Cantor Collection, a full text exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains material on The Gates of Hell
- Octave Mirbeau, « Auguste Rodin ».
- The Gates of Hell, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Object Number 1985.86, bronze cast No. 5.