Saturday, 4 December 2010

Rodin - The Origins of Genius

The Thinker
At the Palazzo Leone da Perego, Legnano (near Milan):
Rodin: The Origins of Genius (1864-1884)
20th November 2010 - 20th March 2011

The exhibition is organised by the City of Legnano and the Musée Rodin in Paris, which has chosen Legnano for the most important exhibiton dedicated to Auguste Rodin ever held in Italy.

François-Auguste-René Rodin is the author of one of the most important artistic revolutions in Western art. Trained at the École Speciale de Dessin et Mathématiques, following first the courses in design of Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, then sculpture classes, from 1864-1870 he worked in the studio of Louis Carrier-Belleuse, with whom he executed the designs for the Brussels Stock Exchange. Refused by the Salon, he left for Italy where he studied the works of Michelangelo.

In 1880 he was commissioned to make the bronze door for the new Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Rodin chose a subject from Dante: the famous Gates of Hell. These were the years of his greatest masterpieces, the period when his sculpture changed from modern to contemporary.

Video report (in Italian) by

St John the Baptist
The exhibiton presents 65 sculptures, 28 drawings and 19 paintings, as well as letters, original documents and photographs - a total of 120 works of which more than half have never before been displayed in Italy - covering the period of Rodin's artistic formation, fundamental in the evolution of his oeuvre, from the early 1860s up to the design of the great Gates of Hell. The exhibition displays some of the sculptor's absolute masterpieces, which revolutionised contemporary plastic arts, among them St John the Baptist, The Thinker, The Kiss, The Three Shades and others, on a journey from the first essays in the studio of Carrier-Belleuse to the full affirmation of a personal and innovative poetics.

At Legnano, for the first time in Italy, 19 paintings will be exhibited, for the most part views of the forest of Soignes in Belgium, conserved in the archives of the Musée Rodin in Paris. From Belgium, Rodin's artistic journey moves to the Paris of the Salon, then to Florence, where the Master encounters the works of Michelangelo and Ghiberti, but also the extraordinary poetic force of Dante. These three elements are in fact the major influences that lead Rodin to create The Gates of Hell, which blend Italian and French traditions.

Man with Broken Nose
The exhibition is organised in sections, beginning with Youth and Formation, where we find works of his youth, some academic studies and studies of Old Masters like Poussin. The first works date from 1854, when Rodin was but a 14 year old adolescent; they are portraits of family and friends, still in traditional style, but with hints of what will become his great expressive power, along with some works in the oriental style, and sketches of horses and riders. Of particular interest is The Man with the Broken Nose, in its original marble rendition of 1864, refused by the Paris Salon, and of which a later bronze rendition of 1874 is also displayed.

Originally named The Poet, The Thinker was part of a monumental bronze door, The Gates of Hell, commissioned from Rodin as the entrance door of a proposed Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris which in reality never came to fruition. Rodin chose to depict a theme dear to him, namely Dante's universe of the Divine Comedy, which at the time was considerd a work rich in Romantic and adventurous ideas, which furthermore Rodin had been familiar with since the days of the Petit Ecole. Each figure he created was one of the major characters of the poem. The Thinker was intended to represent Dante before the gates of Hell, meditating on his great work. The statue is a nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in Michelangelo's mold, representing both intellect and poetry. It is not hard to recognise in The Thinker the splendid figure of Il Penseroso, sculpted by Michelangelo for the tomb of Lorenzo de'Medici, Duke of Urbino, located in the New Sacristy of the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence. Sat atop a rock in the centre of the tympanum, in solitary meditation, Dante looks down towards the tragic, terrible world of the damned. Within a few years, however, the figure was 'detached' from the work - which remained unfinished - and was transformed into a new image of more universal symbolic import, changing from Dante into a modern thinker, the symbol of man's naked being, meditating on his own destiny and reflecting maturely on the sorrows that await him.

The Bronze Age
Rodin made a first plaster version of the work in 1880. This precious original is dsplayed in Legnano. The first monumental bronze was cast in 1902, but not displayed in public until 1904. It was purchased by the city of Paris, thanks to a subscription organised by the sculptor's admirers, and was placed in front of the Panthéon in 1906. In 1922, however, it was transferred to the Hôtel Biron, which became the Musée Rodin. More than any other Rodin sculpture, The Thinker has entered the collective imagination, as the icon of intellectual activity; Rodin himself was particluarly fond of the work (which, amongst others, made him famous); to the point of wanting a version placed on his grave in Meudon. The Thinker is a symbol of Rodin's entire oeuvre; housed at the museum which bears his name in Paris, it represents a man intent on profound meditation.

Young Woman Wearing a Floral Hat
In the section In Belgium are displayed for the first time a series of 19 small paintings painted in Belgium between 1871 and 1877, mostly depicting landscapes of the forest of Soignes; they are characterised by an extraordinary light that links them to the great French tradition of Corot and Courbet. The journey continues through the works that Rodin created in Belgium where he lived for 6 years from 1871. While there, he travelled in 1876 to Italy. They are small-scale works, many of pottery, some small portraits or tasteful works for middle-class clients, characterised by their elegance and delicacy.

In Looking at the Masters, one can see the studies after Rubens, and more studies of Italian Masters such as Donatello, Michelangelo and Titian, made during Rodin's first visit to Italy, which took in Rome and Florence, in particular the basilica of San Lorenzo, where he became so enamoured of Dante and his Divine Comedy.

Bust of Carrier-Belleuse
In the section Return to Paris we find some of Rodin's most important masterpieces, starting with The Bronze Age and continuing with Bellona, St John the Baptist, La Défense and some astonishingly beautiful portraits, like that dedicated to the Master's friend, the Bust of Carrier-Belleuse. Works such as these have become forever ground-breaking and demonstrate all the power of Rodin, his originality and break with the creators of the past, notwithstanding his great attention to the great Italian Masters of sculpture, above all Michelangelo.

The Gates of Hell
In 1880 the French State commissioned from Rodin a monumental door. This was to be adorned with eleven bas-reliefs representing scenes from the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. For this work, Rodin was inspired by the famous doors Ghiberti had made for the Baptistery in Florence in the 15th century. After three years work, the French artist produced his first satisfactory result, although the project was abandoned. Without ever having a specific destination, these gates became for Rodin a kind of creative reservoir for numerous independent sculptures, like The Thinker and The Kiss.

The Three Shades
At its summit, the group composed of three shades is, in a very modern procedure, a triple repetition of the same figure bereft of an arm. On the trumeau The Thinker, or Dante Alighieri, ponders the abyss. On the right hand wing the figure of Count Ugolino is recognisable. On the left, Paolo and Francesco are mingled with a maelstrom of bodies. Eventually, the door found its way to the place where it had been commissioned, without, however, fulfilling its intended function.

The Falling Man
In the section called The Gates of Hell, in addition to two rare and valuable sketches, provided with difficulty by the Musée Rodin, we find some of the works that made Rodin immortal, either in their original form or in later enlargements, such as The Thinker, Ugolino, The Falling Man, Eternal Spring, The Kiss, The Squatting Woman, Fugit Amor, The Despairing Adolescent. The journey ends with The Three Shades and the two sculptures of Adam and Eve.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue (in Italian) published by Umberto Allemandi & Co., with contributions by the curators and by Catherine Lampert, Barbara Musetti, June Hargrove and François Blanchetière. The book is also available in digital format.

(extracts from the official exhibition guide translated by A Curran)

Official exhibition page (in Italian)
Musée Rodin, Paris

The Squatting Woman

Eternal Spring

The Gates of Hell
Video by
Running time: 26:46

This video explains why there are two different versions of the same artwork, and why Rodin remained obsessed by the Gates until his death. It shows how the artist managed to solve major aesthetic issues that faced modern artists at that time.

Rodin (1840-1917)
A BBC Omnibus production made in 1986
Running time: 01:12:06


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