Ugolino surrounded by his Three Children

Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917)

Circa 1880

Pencil, pen and wash, ink and gouache on paper

H. 17.3 cm ; W. 13.7 cm


Former Maurice Fenaille Collection, acquired in 1929 ?

When Rodin received the commission for The Gates of Hell, he immersed himself in Dante’s Divine Comedy, “pencil in hand”, and made over 100 drawings, which were not designs for the monument, but a means of “working in the spirit of this formidable poet”, as he wrote in a letter to Léon Gauchez. Invaded by dark lines or ink washes, these sketches became known as the “black drawings”, both because of the technique used and the infernal world they depict.


Among the desperate, endlessly wandering souls whom Dante and Virgil encounter during their journey, Ugolino was the one that especially fuelled Rodin’s imagination. The artist decided to follow all the episodes of the count’s tragic destiny, from his imprisonment in the Tower of Pisa, where he had been condemned to starve to death with his children, to the atrocious scenes in which he devoured his own sons.


In this pyramidal composition, the contorted bodies and screaming mouths are modelled by shadowy grey washes and white gouache highlights, while a mass of entangled lines in pencil or red ink confer a frenetic, bloodthirsty aspect on the scene. The turbulent, poignant nature of this image is heightened by the dark expression on the face of Ugolino,who, as his sons cling to his side, seeks to stifle a scream of terror with his left hand or to cover his ravenous mouth.

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