3- The Gates of Hell
Noticed by the Undersecretary of State for Fine Arts, Rodin was awarded a commission to design a bronze door for a future Parisian museum of decorative arts. Filled with enthusiasm, Rodin sketched and modelled several maquettes, as well as numerous groups and figures. The general design of this work, which would soon be known as The Gates of Hell, gradually took shape.
Whereas his second maquette focused on a multitude of tiny figures in sunken panels, in the third maquette the overall structure became much clearer: The Thinker dominated the composition in the centre of the tympanum; two groups stood out on the lower doors: The Kiss, on the left, and Ugolino devouring his children, on the right. Rodin pursued his idea by modelling different-sized figures of damned souls inspired by Hell, the first part of The Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), in which the Florentine poet describes his journey through the nine circles of Hell.
The Thinker was thus originally a depiction of Dante himself, contemplating his life’s work and the misfortunes of mankind. The Kiss represents Paolo and Francesca surrendering to a love forbidden to them, a love that would lead to their downfall. Ugolino, condemned to death by starvation for having betrayed his native city of Pisa, and imprisoned with his children, is portrayed here in his final moments, in a faithful rendering of the story he told Dante: crawling over the bodies of his children, he eventually gave in to his hunger, before surrendering, in turn, to death.