Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917)
The Gates of Hell, first maquette
H. 23.3 cm ; W. 15.5 cm ; D. 2 cm
In 1880, when he was still just a promising but little-known sculptor, Rodin was awarded a commission by the French state to design a bronze door for a future Museum of Decorative Arts. He threw himself body and soul into this project, drawing then modelling a multitude of subjects inspired by The Divine Comedy. In this long poem written in the early 14th century, Dante Alighieri (c. 1265-1321) describes his journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Like many Romantic artists before him, Rodin was passionately interested in Hell, inhabited by a multitude of despairing beings, and ignored the two others parts.
The first maquette, promptly modelled in wax, showed Rodin’s initial idea for his composition. Influenced by Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Paradise door (1425-52) for the Baptistry, Florence, he divided his portal into ten panels, five on each of the two doors, separated by ornamental friezes. No details of the contents of each panel were featured, Rodin having contented himself with sketching the general organization of his monument.