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About the Artist: Auguste Rodin is often considered one of the most influential figures of modern sculpture, despite the numerous setbacks of his early career. He studied under Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran at the Ecole Imperiale Speciale de Dessin et de Mathemathiques, often referred to as the Petite Ecole, between 1854-7. Following his study there, he was denied entrance to Ecole des Beaux-Arts three successive times. In 1864, his plaster, Man with the Broken Nose (Musee Rodin) was rejected by the Salon, although a marble version was later accepted for the 1872 Salon. Rodin left for Italy in 1874, where he studied the sculpture of Michelangelo. The work of the Old Master had a profound influence on the young artist, who began to emulate the former's expressive musculature and poses. When Rodin returned from Italy in 1875, he worked steadily and earned most of his major commissions in the 1880s. The artist had his first solo exhibitions in Germany and Austria in 1894 and his first major exhibitions in 1899 in Holland and Belgium.
The 1890s also saw the appearance of Rodin's most lasting influence on modern sculpture: the fragmentation of the human form. Beginning with the 1898 exhibition of the headless Study of a Seated Woman (Cybele) (Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Max Wasserman, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts), Rodin shocked the public and inspired younger sculptors. Grand Torso de L'Homme Qui Tombe (Torso of a Man, Falling), c. 1903, and La Priere (The Prayer), 1909, are examples of Rodin s mature experimentation with the fragmented torso. Grand Torso de L'Homme Qui Tombe recalls the agonized, tumbling figures of the Damned from Michelangelo's Last Judgment, 1536-41 (Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome). Rodin has removed the arms, legs, and head from his figure, yet the arched posture of the muscular torso suggests the act of falling. La Priere also communicates thematic intent through the posture and stance of the torso. In keeping with the title, the close position of the thighs and the slight bend of the waist communicate reverence and piety. La Priere, in particular, makes an oblique reference to Rodin's personal association between the sculptural fragment and spirituality: "Beauty is like God; a fragment of beauty is complete."
La Cathedrale, c. 1908, also invokes the theme of prayer in the joining of two hands. According to the Musee Rodin, the hands do not belong to a single individual but to two people "suggesting human interrelationship as being essential to achieving the spiritual ideal." Rodin's title furthers the spiritual theme by associating the hands with French Gothic cathedrals; the artist was reportedly convinced that the source of the ogival arch could be found in the clasped hands.
Regardless, it is clear that Rodin found the hands to be expressive elements in their own right as did critic Ranier Maria Rilke: "There is a history of hands; they have their own culture, their particular beauty; one concedes to them the right of their own development, their own needs, feelings, caprices and tenderness."