The Gates of Hell
La Porte de l'Enfer (translated The Gates of Hell) is a monumental sculptural group work by French artist Auguste Rodin. It stands at 6 m high, 4 m wide and 1 m deep and contains 180 figures. The figures range from 15 cm high up to more than one metre. Several of the figures were also cast independently by Rodin.
Commissioned by the Directorate of Fine Arts in 1880. It was meant to be delivered in 1885. Rodin would continue to work on and off this project for 37 years, until his death in 1917.
The Directorate asked for an inviting entrance to a planned Decorative Arts Museum. The theme was left to Rodin's selection. Rodin admired Dante and was subjugated by the reading of the Inferno. He had sketches of some of Dante's characters before the commission.
The Decoratives 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 were medieval cathedrals. Some of those combine both high and low relief.
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.
- 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 contrast along 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 XXXII) The Ugolino group was cast as a separate bronze in 1882.
- The Three Shades (Les trois Ombres), which 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.
- Fugitive 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 Prodigial.
- 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 that was written by François Villon.
- 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 was cast in 1884.
- 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.
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 Zurich], Zurich
- The B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford University
- The Rodin Gallery, Seoul, Korea