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Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917)
The Gates of Hell, third maquette
H. 111.5 cm ; W. 75 cm ; D. 30 cm
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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 third maquette for The Gates of Hell is very similar to the composition finally retained by Rodin. As several drawings done at this time show , the sculptor had swiftly reduced the number of panels from ten to eight, before abandoning the idea of compartments on the two doors. He then borrowed some of the characteristics of Gothic art for the structure of his portal : between the two doors there was now a central pier, surmounted by a figure seated on a capital, The Thinker , housed in a sort of tympanum.However, the work owes its largest debt to the Renaissance, with its composition based on orthogonal lines, its pilasters adorned with figures and its entablature supported by modillions. Among the main groups recognizable on the doors are The Kiss , on the left, and Ugolino devouring his children, on the right, in a version closer to the preliminary drawings than to the final work.
This plaster was cast from an unfired clay model, the same one that Rodin worked on, and very probably represents one of the last stages in the elaboration of his project.