This section of the website features many of the artist’s most well-known and important bronzes and complements the section titled Why Is Rodin Important?
Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose
Originally modeled 1863–64
Size: 12 ½ x 7 ¼ x 6 inches
Rodin considered The Man with the Broken Nose to be his first major work. He began the portrait in 1863, intending to submit it to the Paris Salon as his debut. He hired Bibi, a neighborhood handyman, to model for him. He was drawn to Bibi’s rough features and wanted to depict him as he was — broken nose and all. He combined these ‘unbeautiful’ features with some of the conventions of Greek sculpture: blank eyes and Classically modeled hair. Despite the combination, in the end the piece’s expressive naturalism outshines the idealism of Classical sculpture.
The Man with the Broken Nose became The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose when the cold temperature in Rodin’s poor studio caused the back of the wet clay head he was modeling to freeze and break off. Rodin, favoring accident and chance, wanted to exhibit the portrait as it was — really just a face or a mask — and and for over a year he continued to work on it before finally submitting it to the Salon. The Salon jury rejected the work. Twice (1864 and 1865). Nevertheless, Rodin drew inspiration from The Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose. He created another version — the full head — and another, for The Gates of Hell, and used the mask and head in other subsequent works.
The Age of Bronze (Reduction)
Originally modeled 1876, reduced in size about 1903–04
Size: 26 x 8 ½ x 7 inches
In 1875 Rodin began work on a life-size male nude, intending to submit it to the Salon. Originally titled The Vanquished, the piece was based on figures in ancient Greek and Roman art. Rodin’s figure was more natural, however, lacking the exaggerated muscles of Classical sculpture. He exhibited The Vanquished first in Brussels, where he was working and living at the time. Here two critics were suspicious of the exquisite modeling and accused him of making it by putting clay over a live body. These rumors continued in 1877 when Rodin submitted the piece, now titled The Age of Bronze, to the Paris Salon. Although it was praised for its beauty, the work was rejected by the jury. From then on Rodin was forced to defend himself against the suspicion he was casting from a live body, until he ceased to do life-size figures and instead did only figures that were either larger or smaller than a real person.
The Call to Arms
Originally modeled 1879
Size: 44 ½ x 22 ½ x 15 inches
In 1879 Rodin entered a competition for a monument to honor the French who participated in the defense of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). His submission portrayed a winged female figure rising above a wounded warrior who appeared to be sinking to the ground. The impassioned female figure was to be seen as a symbol of liberty set against the pathos of the dying warrior. The movement, expression, and symbolism are clearly powerful; however, the conservative competition jury was looking for a more realistic portrayal, one that captured the patriotic sentiment of the event and did not show the warrior in a non-heroic pose. Although Rodin’s innovative design was not chosen for the Paris monument, in 1920 The Call to Arms was cast for a monument at Verdun that commemorated the sacrifice of the French soldiers of World War I. Rodin returned to the winged female figure in a later work, The Spirit of War, which portrays the figure without the collapsing warrior.
Saint John the Baptist Preaching
Originally modeled about 1880
Size: 19 ¾ x 11 x 9 ⅛ inches
Partly to exonerate himself from the allegations surrounding The Age of Bronze, Rodin made his next figure larger than life-size. However this Saint John the Baptist Preaching was controversial anyway because it did not include the Saint’s more common attributes – hair-shirt, leather belt, cross and scroll – but instead presented an unidealized, awkward figure. Contemporaries found Rodin’s nude Saint John improper, ugly, and shocking. One of the interesting aspects of this piece is that the legs were added to the torso after the torso was modeled, and they have been placed somewhat awkwardly. It is as if Rodin wanted to show the figure caught during movement, so the torso is one place and the out-of-proportion legs are another.
The Gates of Hell and derivatives
The Gates of Hell (1880 – about 1900) was Rodin’s most ambitious work. Commissioned to be the entrance doors for a (never-built) museum of decorative arts, The Gates (about 21 feet, or 640 centimeters, tall) features hundreds of figures modeled in low- to high-relief and even nearly in-the-round. The imagery in Rodin’s Gates was inspired by Dante’s Inferno (part of The Divine Comedy, written about 1308, an epic poem about the author’s fictional journey through Hell and Purgatory to Paradise). With Dante as his inspiration, Rodin created an mash pit of tormented souls; it presented not only the underworld but also the suffering of humankind in general.
The composition of Rodin’s Gates was inspired by the long tradition of compartmentalized church doors, specifically the doors to the Baptistery in Florence. These, called The Gates of Paradise, were designed between 1425 and 1452 by the Italian Renaissance artist Lorenzo Ghiberti. In his Gates of Hell, however, Rodin abandoned the stacked-box-like, linear narration seen in Ghiberti’s traditionally-composed doors and instead created a free-form environment in which tormented souls float and weave in a surging arrangement.
When the commission for The Gates was cancelled (the government built a train station — the Gare d’Orsay, now the Musee d’Orsay — on the site instead of the decorative arts museum), Rodin began to exhibit the figures that populated The Gates as independent sculptures, sometimes reduced and/or enlarged in size. These pieces, separated from the original Gates, took on new meaning. Among the most well-known of these independent pieces are The Thinker, The Kiss and The Three Shades. This practice of re-using pieces from one project in another and of producing casts in various sizes, was part of Rodin’s studio practice from 1880 onward.
During Rodin’s lifetime The Gates of Hell was neither shown in its entirety nor cast in bronze. Since his death, according to his wishes, bronze casts have been made. One was commissioned by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation; an award-winning video of the process, produced by Iris Cantor, provides more information about this work. Contact the Foundation for more information about this video.
The Gates of Hell, Third Maquette
Originally modeled 1880
Size: 43 ⅝ x 29 1/16 x 11 ¾ inches
Rodin did many studies for The Gates of Hell. He made hundreds of drawings of individual characters and scenes and produced several maquettes (small models used as sketches) to lay out the overall composition. The first maquette is only ten inches high and does not contain any figures, but rather is just a general outline literally thumbed into the clay. By the third and last maquette, the composition is still rough and summary, however several figures are recognizable. (Some, such as The Thinker, are as they appear in the The Gates. Others are greater challenges to find: If you look closely at this third maquette, Paolo and Francesca and the figures of The Kiss are visible on the lower left side.)
Originally modeled 1880, reduced 1903
Size: 14 ¾ x 7 ⅞x 11 ⅜ inches
Resting on the tympanum (the horizontal panel above the double doors), The Thinker is the focal point of The Gates and subsequently has become perhaps the most well-known sculpture of all time. The athletic-looking figure is a man in somber meditation yet also one whose muscles strain with effort – possibly to signify a powerful internal struggle. Rodin initially referred to the figure as Dante, but it has evolved into a more symbolic representation of creativity, intellect, and perhaps above all, the act of thinking.
Originally modeled about 1881-82
Size: 34 x 17 x 22 inches
The Kiss is one of Rodin’s most widely admired works. Originally conceived as part of The Gates of Hell, it did not appear as such in the final version. The lovers in The Kiss are Paolo and Francesca, who Dante placed in the Second Circle of Hell in his Inferno. Their story was a popular subject of painting and sculpture during the nineteenth century: While reading the tale of Camelot’s Lancelot and Guinevere, Paolo and Francesca exchange glances and realize their mutual lust. Just like Camelot’s lovers, Paolo and Francesca succumb to desire and passionately embrace. Immediately discovered, the couple is slain by Francesca’s husband, who was also Paolo’s brother.
Rodin captured the moment when the doomed pair realized their passion. His sculpture defied tradition by showing them unclothed instead of in Florentine dress. First exhibited in 1887, initially this hungry depiction of erotic love shocked viewers, primarily because of Francesca’s shameless awareness of her sexuality. Within a year, however, the sculpture was accepted and admired by the French. Indeed, the piece was in great demand in all of its four sizes, and as there was no tradition then of limiting the number of casts that could be made, between 1898 and 1918 one foundry alone produced 319 casts. The government of France even commissioned a marble version (now in the Musée Rodin).
The Three Shades
Originally modeled 1880-1904
Size: 38 ¼ x 37 ½ x 20 ½ inches
Standing at the very top of The Gates of Hell, The Three Shades (a shade is a ghost or phantom) gesture downward, with heads lowered and arms extended, appearing despondent and weary. Rodin’s contemporaries believed The Three Shades spoke Dante’s warning, inscribed above the gate to Hell in the Inferno: “Abandon every hope, ye who enters here.”
After an 1875 visit to Michelangelo’s work in Italy, Rodin began a piece of sculpture that was greatly influenced by Michelangelo’s painting of the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Rodin altered the pose of Michelangelo’s reclining figure, making his own Adam upright with his hand gesturing downward instead of outward. Eventually Rodin’s Shade emerged as a variation of his Adam. Here are three identical casts of the same figure, each positioned at a slightly different angle. In using three figures together, Rodin knew they would each lose their identity as Adam and would instead become Shades – shadows of the living dead. Perhaps to symbolize their powerlessness, Rodin also deprived the shades of their right hands and represented their left hands as simply modeled fists. (The enlarged version of The Three Shades, however, does have the right hands intact and the left hands modeled in greater detail.)
Eve (small version)
Originally modeled 1883
Size: 28 x 10 x 10 1/2 inches
This Eve is a small version (not a reduction) of one that would have joined Adam in front of The Gates of Hell (had the project been completed). As he always did, Rodin used a live model for Eve. It is reported that as Rodin worked from the model to the clay, he was astonished that every day he had to modify the belly. He soon learned the reason: the model was pregnant. Rodin said the pregnancy gave the sculpture character. However, when the model became too uncomfortable to pose, he set the life-size version aside and worked on the smaller version instead.
This version is not just a reduction of the first one: It has a smoother, more sensual body. Still, both versions have their heads bowed and arms folded covering their breasts. The figures have the traditional “S” curve and the poses suggest a modesty or shame that could easily be associated with Eve.
Studies for the Monument to the Burghers of Calais
The Burghers of Calais was commissioned by the French city of Calais to commemorate the 500th anniversary of a dramatic and patriotic real event that happened in 1347, during the Hundred Years’ War. Six leading citizens volunteered to be put to death by the English king, Edward III, in exchange for his lifting an eleven-month siege of their city that was causing mass starvation. Rodin’s commission was to commemorate this event with a monument to be sited in the town square from which the burghers actually marched to their death.
Rodin did many studies for the Monument before he decided on how the final version would look. He also did many studies for the individual burghers, most of whose physical characteristics and even names (but for one) were lost in history. He made up people and their emotions, and he modeled them first nude and then clothed as they would be for the the final monument. His fragments – hands and heads – and nude studies all captured aspects of what he was striving to achieve. After the Monument was completed, he continued to work with the richness of possibilites offered by these figures, creating enlargements and reductions and incorporating partial figures into other compositions.
Rodin’s final version of The Burghers of Calais defied artistic traditions for portraying heroism. Instead of depicting these citizens as lofty and selfless, he showed each at the moment he realized the limit of his own resolve for self-sacrifice. The figures are barefoot and wear sackcloth, and the response of each to his plight is evident in the various tormented or despondent poses and gestures. Rodin’s shift in focus from a monument of triumphant glory to one of human suffering changed the form and meaning of the public monument in the late nineteenth century. It was, indeed, as revolutionary as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial has been in our time.
The Burghers of Calais (First Maquette)
Originally modeled 1884
Size: 23 ¾ x 14 ¼ x 12 5/8 inches
In this initial study Rodin depicted the men bound together with rope around their necks, standing atop a high base, which made their heroism appear all the more dramatic. Rodin showed all six men taking their first steps toward the camp of Edward III. His design defied nineteenth-century academic standards which had traditionally concentrated on telling the story of a single heroic figure even if a group of people had participated in the event.
Jean de Fiennes (Clothed)
Originally modeled 1885-86
Size: 82 x 48 x 38 inches
Rodin portrayed Jean de Fiennes as the youngest of the six burghers and, as was the artist’s custom, modeled several versions of Jean before deciding on the final figure. The clothed figure retains the pose of earlier studies, however his hair is now fuller and his feet are visible as though stepping forward. The burgher’s expression is hesitant– as if he has not quite accepted his imminent fate.
Pierre de Wiessant (Reduction)
Originally modeled about 1886-87, reduction made in either 1895 or 1899
Size: 18 ¾ x 6 ½ x 6 ⅜ inches
Rodin created many studies for Pierre de Wiessant. He experimented with various body types and poses. In the final monument this burgher looks back over his shoulder, his hand extended as if in despair. His face shows great anguish and the intensity of his emotions give him the appearance of withdrawing from the other figures. This Pierre differs greatly from the Pierre of the first maquette who stares outward with his hand pointing to himself, perhaps questioning his impending fate. No longer questioning, here the young burgher seems to look inward, as if painfully beginning to accept the inevitable.
Monumental Head of Pierre de Wiessant (Enlargement)
Originally modeled about 1884-85, enlarged 1909
Size: 32 ⅜ x 19 ½ x 21 inches
Rodin did many studies to explore the character and pose of each burgher before deciding on the details of the final monument. Among these were head studies, focusing on depth of emotion as reflected in the faces. The Monumental Head of Pierre de Wiessant is an enlarged version of the final head study of this burgher, one of the two youngest. Rodin was clearly interested in the depiction of youth in the face of death.
Studies for the Monument to Balzac
In 1891 Rodin was commissioned by the Societé des Gens de Lettres (Society of Men of Letters) to create a monument to Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), one of France’s most influential and beloved writers. For the next seven years Rodin struggled to find a way to portray Balzac that would be accurate physically and would also symbolize the writer’s creative genius. Balzac had been dead for forty years, so Rodin also faced the challenge of creating a likeness of a man he had never seen. He consulted photographs, a medium in its infancy in Balzac’s time, and did other research. For instance, he ordered a suit from Balzac’s tailor in the writer’s measurements in order to visualize his considerable size and girth.
During Rodin’s struggle to devise a compelling likeness of Balzac, he completed at least fifty studies; some convey Balzac’s actual appearance and others are more subjective and abstract.
In 1898 Rodin presented the final model for the Balzac monument to the Society of Men of Letters. The nine-foot plaster, modern in its abstraction, was met with outrage, disbelief, and ridicule, and as a result the Society rejected it. Deeply hurt by the criticism, Rodin refused to allow the sculpture to be cast in bronze during his lifetime.
Balzac in Dominican Robe
Originally modeled in 1891-92
Size: 41 ¾ x 20 ⅛ x 20 inches
Balzac’s hefty build, large potbelly, and short legs offered Rodin a challenge and he experimented with different ways to depict the writer’s famous physique. The solution was to clothe Balzac in a robe (Balzac was known to wear a loose-fitting robe while working at night) that would conceal his hefty shape and thus direct the viewer’s attention to Balzac’s head. One of several robed studies, Balzac in Dominican Robe portrays the author surrounded by his main attributes – books and manuscripts – and recalls an ancient convention, perhaps adding a timeless appeal to the work.
Nude Study of Balzac as an Athlete (Type ‘F’)
Originally modeled about 1896
Size: 35 ⅝ x 15 ¾ x 14 ⅛ inches
Rodin’s most symbolic study of Balzac, this piece depicts the author with exaggerated muscles and a young and virile body. In this controversial image Rodin associated intellectual and artistic creativity with sexual prowess, all attributes for which Balzac was equally famous.
Monumental Head of Balzac (Enlargement)
Originally modeled in1897
Size: 20 ¼ x 20 ⅞ x 16 ⅜ inches
Many of the studies for the Monument to Balzac were of only Balzac’s head, as Rodin felt it was important to emphasize the heads of people of high intellect. The Monumental Head of Balzac is an enlargement of the final head created for the Monument, which in itself was life-sized. In this version, Balzac’s exaggerated features reveal varied expressions when viewed in changing light and from different points of view.
Rodin insisted that a part of a figure, such as a torso or a hand, could by itself convey meaning and thus was a complete work of art. Throughout his career he was inspired and energized by the power and formal beauty he found in fragments.
Rodin had many sources for his fragments. Early in his career his studios were primitive and plagued by extremely cold temperatures in winter, temperatures that sometimes caused his clay sculpture to freeze and break into parts. Throughout his career and like all sculptors he frequently destroyed works in progress, which also left him with fragments. Finally, the method he used to cast his sculpture in bronze included using plaster casts. These casts too became sources for fragments.
Rodin believed the fragments – like torsos or hands – were not dependent on their original contexts for their meanings. Throughout his career he preserved broken pieces with the thought of using them later in new sculpture. Sometimes he used these pieces at their original size and at other times he had them reduced or enlarged.
Rodin was particularly fascinated by the human hand. He modeled thousands; they ranged from naturalistic studies to powerful symbolic compositions. Many were rapid clay sketches and captured the fluid, expressive nature of the hand. At times they conveyed spiritual or symbolic content. In his complete figures the hands are often defining elements that greatly extend the meaning of the work.
These partial figures are one of the great innovations of sculpture at the beginning of the twentieth century. Other artists, like Maillol, Brancusi, Archipenko, and Matisse, all learned from Rodin’s fragments.
Monumental Torso of the Walking Man
Originally modeled about 1905
Size: 43 ⅓ x 26 ¾ x 15 inches
Rodin’s early training as an artist included drawing and modeling from ancient Greek and Roman pieces that were at the time being excavated. These were often broken – fragments and partial figures – and inspired his own work. One of his earliest partial figures, the Torso of the Walking Man, looks mutilated and worn – similar to the fragmented Classical sculptures.
Originally modeled in 1910
Size: 49 ½ x 21 ⅝ x 19 ⅝ inches
As is true with many of his other figures, The Prayer, with its smooth surfaces and Classically-idealized female body, reminds us of Ancient Greek sculpture.
Many people did not agree that Rodin’s partial figures were acceptable as works of art. They felt that if the human figure was not depicted as “complete,” it was a “violation” of the God-given human form. Many critics also used Rodin’s partial figures as avenues for criticism of his other work, citing the partial figures as evidence of the artist’s difficulty with completing projects (such as the rejected Monument to Balzac).
Original stone version made in 1908
Size: 25 ¼ x 12 ¾ x 13 ½ inches
The Cathedral is composed of two larger-than-life-sized casts of the same right hand, put together in a prayer-like gesture. As suggested by its title, the shape and gesture are to be reminders of the vertical reach of a medieval cathedral and perhaps also refer to Rodin’s passion for Gothic architecture. Rodin developed a keen interest in French cathedrals while on a journey in 1875. Taking a train from Brussels (where he was working at the time) to Paris, one of his stops was the northeastern French city of Reims. Here he was struck by the Cathedral of Notre Dame, considered one of the best examples of Gothic architecture in France. He retained his passion for Gothic architecture throughout his life and even documented it in his 1914 publication The Cathedrals of France.
Clenched Left Hand
Originally modeled in 1906
Size: 18 ¼ 10 3/8 x 7 5/8 inches
Large Clenched Left Hand with Figure
Originally modeled about 1885
Size: 17 ½ x 11 ½ x 10 3/8 inches
These two hands are examples of Rodin’s interest in hands afflicted with paralyzing diseases (such as arthritis or “claw hand”), which often have a theatrical look and can be seen as expressing pain or anger. Working with a series of enlargements Rodin intensified the emotion of the hand by placing it upright in a threatening pose — like an angry cobra ready to strike. Clenched Left Hand with Figure portrays the afflicted hand in the same threatening pose; however here Rodin added an element that extended the interpretation: the contorted hand towers over a small figure, suggesting a powerful force or dominance.
After the 1900 Paris World Exposition retrospective of his work, Rodin’s popularity soared and he received numerous commissions for portraits of poets, musicians, dignitaries, and other luminaries. Commissioned portraits provided much of his income. He modeled more than one hundred portraits during his lifetime; often they honored benefactors and friends.
- Bust of Jean Baptiste Rodin
- Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose
- Mask of Hanako, Type D
- Gustav Mahler
Monuments and Maquettes
Like many of his contemporaries, Rodin sought work and recognition by competing for commissions for public monuments. He sculpted numerous maquettes — small models made of clay or wax — to submit as competition entries for these commissions. For Rodin, these clay sketches were not only submission pieces, but also opportunities to work out his ideas. Before he died he gave these maquettes to the French nation for the intended Musée Rodin. The gift came with the instructions that the works could be cast in bronze after his death.
Maquettes/Studies for monuments:
- Maquette of Monument to General Lynch
- The Call to Arms
- Study for the Monument to Claude Lorrain
- Study for the Monument to Whistler
- The Burghers of Calais, First Maquette
- The Gates of Hell, Third Maquette