François-Auguste-René Rodin one of the greatest artists in history, and certainly the initiator of modern sculpture, was born on November 12, 1840 in Paris.
Sculpture is the art that shapes the volume, the three-dimensionality of matter that is form in the beginning in the mind and soul of the artist. Space is the environment with which the sculptor relates, in which he shows his conception of life and leaves his work as a sign of a continuous tremor in the search between immanence and transcendence, as a tension that gives a reason to what is beautiful or ugly.
Rodin invents a new sculpture by entering into the realm of modernity, tracing a different exemplarity and therefore another interpretation of aesthetics and beauty, starting from classicism but going beyond unthinkable limits, going against any academicism.
Our artist has been considered the new Michelangelo both because he emulated him and because in the art of sculpture he represented a universal reference point for those who came after.
Around the sculpture always revolve concepts such as “movement”, “light”, “perspective”, “monumentality”, “all round”, elements that Rodin proposes compared to the past with a different interpretation starting from the conception of the work from its design, from the interpretation of the sketches, from the use of the same models posed. He is the sculptor of truth and life who expresses himself directly for art and in art.
Rodin has always been linked to drawing and decorative practice working, before success as a great artist, as a craftsman with a mind ductile to design, seriality and materiality.
As a young student he did not succeed in entering the École des Beaux Arts, the most important art academy in Paris: he tried to enter three times and all three times he was rejected.
His training took place at the École Speciale de Dessin et Mathématiques where he attended the drawing courses of master Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran, as well as sculpture classes. Master who greatly influenced Rodin’s way of approaching the world because he wanted his students to train their personality by having them draw after they had seen a subject drawing from their imagination. An attitude that Rodin will show us in the “poetics of the fragment” an important part of his sculpture, which will open to modernity, beyond those of the “unfinished” and the “visibility of movement”.
If we take as a reference model an emblematic sculpture such as Michelangelo’s “La Pietà”, we are faced with a work that has an all-round dimensionality that generally leads to a limit of observation up to a 360° arc.
This allows to see and evaluate the various aspects of composition that in Michelangelo’s case puts us in front of his precise setting of a main point of “observation” that is also in his case unique. Turning around the sculpture, even if we can see the various aspects of the work, Michelangelo gives us a main compositional structure for each side so that his creative process does not relate to other details that the whole round expounds. Ultimately we have a frontal perspective evaluation framed and fixed.
Therefore, a sculpture in its general setting brings in itself the concepts of space/time that the same implies for the eyes of the user, implies its surroundings and its location.
Michelangelo himself will change his setting from the more “decorative” and academic of his youthful Pietà to a more dramatic and animated structure fifty years later, typical of another Pietà such as the Bandini.
This reflection on the sculptural representation comes from itself to understand how art has a vital structure connected to the path of history and how men change and affect it in a path of memory and connections.
Rodin will be the last Michelangelo, it is to him that he is inspired but he moulds the material with a different conception for the final result that will lead to an artifact in the furrow of a mimesis in which reality is everyday life, it is intrinsic movement in the tension and in the vital passion that expresses itself instantaneously, that refers to imagination, to the freedom that life expresses.
Rodin’s work is manifested through a total spatiality of the artist who turns around the project he is modeling so that there is a sequence in which from any point of view the sculpture has its own fullness and its own relationship with light and the surrounding space.
Rodin puts together a series of still images in which the movement gives the fluidity and totality of the mass, it is as if a sculpture could be “developed” on a two-dimensional film whose strip itself represents all the moments linked together.
The great sculptor gives us an immense lesson and gives us back that intellectual plesimorphy inherent in Western culture that sees classical antiquity as a point of reference to emulate, criticize or even surpass it.
This artist gives us a sense of modernity in placing sculpture in a position of new attention with respect to what painting had done, that is, its clear predominance at the cultural level over the arts.
This is because with technology, science had opened up new ways of probing reality and stopping it in an instant through photography, with the image, so much so that it led the painting artists to a real competition with it.
Rodin surpasses photography itself, which he does not consider capable of representing reality as the artist does, who must copy what is seen, going on to explain the concept of movement that is fundamental to his poetics. He states in his book “Art. Conversations with Paul Gsell” that ” […] The artist is truthful and photography lies, because in reality time does not stop: and if the artist succeeds in reproducing a gesture that develops in successive instants, his work is less conventional than the scientific image, where time is abruptly crystallized…”. “.
The sculpture becomes an existential test strongly involving the viewer who enters his space through the suggestions of the material that insinuates the curiosity of the eye driven to move, to find a relationship and a synthesis between what happens and what makes it happen, what is the signifier, the pathos.
Rodin is steeped in the reality he sees around him and the nobility with its dramatic forms and a pictorial chiaroscuro so determined as to be initially misunderstood and not accepted by official art; for the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Honoré de Balzac the Society of French Literati commissioned the statue to Rodin and the large plaster cast, which was presented, was rejected at the 1898 Salon.
Rodin’s art lives within the Western tradition and all the philosophy that has always characterized and beaten it, but with a new sensitivity where the tragic nature of existence is given a disconcerting dynamism that precisely the academy and a world of exteriority and complacency of himself can not accept.
Every genius is understood later and so it was for Rodin.
He was an intellectual Rodin, he read a lot, and this propensity of his saw him confront the countless streams of consciousness in the search for the meaning of man’s life in the face of his time made of contradictions. Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, but also Virgil and Dante Alighieri, in particular the Inferno, were the companions of his cultural journey, he was a man animated by the passion Rodin ultimately. A passion that he with his skill as a craftsman, through his hands, gave to the clay and to his models that were then finished by the carvers in his ateliers.
Seeing the world in reality and asking questions is human nature, fixing ideas and presenting them as universal reflections is a prerogative of men who affect the course of history, just like Rodin with his works.
The sculptor’s art opens up to modernity in the sense of a wider mental range, a higher reflection on reality in his concept of time as a dimension of reference evident in movement.
He prepares his models as in a theatrical context where he leaves room for their expressive freedom so as to trace the moment without influencing the poses impressed in the clay or in the drawing in a continuous, cyclic way.
The beauty that is pursued through this art is the one that digs the perception and detaches itself from the object as humanistic, religious, aesthetic fetish, becoming immanent instant.
Rodin learns from Michelangelo but he follows another way, he is the poet of the mutations of man in his existence, he impresses them with matter, without passion everything would flow, reaching an idealized and abstract life. Flesh is clay, clay is marble, marble is bronze.
Since he was a boy he shows a certain determination, a certain personality, aware of his predisposition to drawing that puts him directly in contact with reality, what the eye sees directly enhances the sign of his hand, he feels what he draws with the pencil.
This attitude is directed with instinct, with the impression for what is the unfolding passion, an individualist position, free from academicism and motionless poses, Rodin draws what is happening in successive instants, dictated by the naturalness of the emotions that take place in front of him.
His desire to immortalize life put him in a position to observe both its intimately tragic aspects and its purely sensual ones, so much so that female sex is a tormenting and intoxicating journey of curiosity, as shown by his 121 sheets of erotic drawings found after his death in a box that he himself had called the “Secret Museum”.
After our artist became famous in his Parisian atelier, women of every social rank competed to be portrayed in the most daring poses, free to undress, to touch themselves, to reach pleasure through autoeroticism in front of which Rodin drew the most daring lines that immortalized the most vivid sense of eroticism, the vital flow, the emulation of happiness.
He was a humanist Rodin and studied the body so much that he stated :
“Beauty is character and expression. Now, there is nothing in nature that has more character than the human body. It evokes with its strength and grace the most diverse images. At certain moments, it resembles a flower: the bending of the torso imitates the stem, the smile of the breasts, the head, and the hair corresponds to the blossoming of the corolla. At other times it recalls a supple liana, a shrub with a subtle and daring curvature […] At other times the human body bent backwards is like a spring, like a beautiful bow on which Eros loads his invisible arrows. At other times, again, it is an urn. The human body is above all the mirror of the soul, and from there comes its greatest beauty,” he told Paul Gsell in their conversations.
Rodin’s art, the kind that would influence all modern sculpture, basically came to life after he visited Italy for two months in 1875 where he saw Donatello and Michelangelo. He later said, “It was Michelangelo who freed me from academic sculpture.” This was as much a staple of his life as the bond with Rose Beuret – mother of his Auguste-Eugène – official companion and not married until 1917, a few months before they both left earthly life.
The first work that he will finish when he will return from Italy will be “the age of bronze” of which will expose the plaster at the artistic and literary circle of Paris in 1887 where he had strong criticism accused of having used a cast of the live model, then against all conventions of the time.
Many artists came to Rodin’s defense and convinced the undersecretary of the Ministry of Fine Arts, Edmund Turquet, to buy the plaster and have it cast in bronze. From here begin the first public commissions and in fact gave him the task of executing the portal of a museum of decorative arts that was to be established, so “The Gates of Hell” will be a work that will keep him busy for the next forty years!
With this commission was also assigned a free studio where he began his economic autonomy having since 1880 the opportunity to work on various commissions from private individuals, so Rodin will become one of the most sought after artists of the late century.
Another is the story of the statue for the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Honoré de Balzac, entrusted to Rodin by the Society of French Literati.
The plaster cast that was presented and rejected at the 1898 Salon: a large head with a lion’s hair resting on a body wrapped in a robe. It was to be a scandal, one of many that accompanied the artist’s life. They called her a toad in a sack. Moreover, in the years in which France was divided over the Dreyfus Affair, a clamorous case of espionage of the Third Republic, the majority of the defenders of Rodin’s Balzac sided with Dreyfus. The artist, who wanted nothing to do with politics, took back his sculpture, returned the money from the payment and never wanted to show it again. “If truth must die my Balzac will be destroyed by future generations,” Rodin defended himself. “If, on the other hand, truth is eternal, then I tell you that my sculpture will go a long way.”
The embodiment of the liberal inclination of our great Rodin in front of his own destiny and of what reality gave him as motus animi will be manifested through classical exegesis, but even more so in the freeing impulse of Michelangelo’s “unfinished” that with him will become the expressive matrix of modernity, an explicit vocation of art tormented by rigid academic schemes that fears no schemes in the face of the author’s interiority.
An interiority that of Rodin passionate and tormented especially by his relationship with women, exemplary as a man who binds to a single female figure as a companion, friend, mother and at the same time explosive in its impetus libertine and creative sexual and sensual aspect.
The eternal dialogue and contrast between truths, between ethical and moral disquisitions, between fidelity and happiness, between loneliness and compromise, between everything and nothing, between love and friendship, between overwhelm and complacency.
Certainly it is important to dwell on the artistic process as an indelible sign of a vision of the universe that is subjective, but which in any case becomes a reason for the reasons that are common, that become a confrontation with one’s own identity, one’s own ethical conception, one’s own behavior, one’s own intellectual and spiritual growth.
Who is Rodin as a man and as an artist who shows us a path through an aesthetic sensation?
A demiurge, a dreamer, a poet, a damned, a researcher. Well, he is all that and more, a man who tells us a story whose narrative lies in art, that is, in what gives the first impulse to the manifestation of sensations.
The poetics of the “unfinished” as research, as endurance, as a passionate imprinting that refers to a dialogue between the ego and the universe, between the unfinished and the perfect, between instinct and maturity, is linked to the poetics of the “fragment” that invites the torment of matter and imagination.
The secret work that unfolds from the torment is revealed by the archivist Jean-Paul Hippeau who brings to light some folders containing the most scabrous drawings made by Rodin and that he had collected under the name of “secret museum, private collection”, 112 sheets with 121 drawings.
It was an ecstatic experience in front of the female body watched in its natural freedom without interludes, so Rodin sacralizes the body without vulgar intent, he highlights the intrinsic voluptuousness as a vital desire, he considers the woman as a temple in itself, there is no intentional possession, but vision, admiration, contemplation.
There are about 7,000 erotic drawings left by Rodin, known as the “Sultan of Meudon”, many young women offered themselves to him, women of the Parisian upper middle class who competed to be portrayed in the most unthinkable poses!
Isadora Duncan, famous dancer, emancipated woman and innovator, counted among the “free dancers” declared of Rodin: “He looked at me with his bright eyes under lowered eyelids, and with the same expression he had before his works, he approached me. He put his hand on my neck, on my chest, caressed my arm, ran his fingers over my hips, my bare legs, my bare feet. He began kneading my body like clay. I was on the run from his breath that burned me, that softened me “
Rodin’s creative act is thus the illumination of the real, that which deploys inner energy to produce substantially pleasantness and love of life even through the clash with what is not beautiful.
Rodin has been described as asocial, with various inner shadows that led him to shed them through his sexual impulses.
An artist of the passions who brings humanity in its most real and concrete expression, where the tension is always vibrant in the stroke that strikes the work.
Rodin’s psychology is restless and materializes immediately in the link with the earth and its plasticity evident in the unfinished that makes the statuary alive.
It is an intrinsic sculpture between soul and brain that of the French artist that expands in the psychological dimension and becomes timeless, in the sense that the subject shows itself as it is in the interlocutor who looks at it with a natural identification of the same so as to place it in a universal dimension, the plastic ego is representation but also awareness, it is involvement, it is equality, it is naturalness.
So we find ourselves to be kidnapped, attracted, so as to feel like “the thinker” or even protagonists of “the kiss”.
Humanity is “explored” through a truthful representation that indicates a synthetic moment, the prosthesis of a familiar attitude, of a felt sentiment, of a desire that has never been quenched.
This great sculptor substantially begins a new way of interpreting the role of communication, his “thinker” is not only through the general position taken but it is in the expression, in mimicry, we say that Rodin gives us back what is the main part of a living being who wants to tell us something through the paraverbal.
In his metamorphic journey with respect to the facets of human passion, we arrive at the representation of the fragment, as a corpus in itself, not as evocation or memory, but as an exercise of imagination, of icasticity of action, of movement.
“L’Homme qui marche” and “Torso” are two emblematic works in which Rodin’s poetics find a sublime synthesis, examples for all sculpture to come.
The tight dynamic around the walking human figure is a leitmotif that tightens the sculpture on the direct evidence of man discovering his space, the awareness of movement, the unbearable lightness of being in front of his imagination, his consciousness, his future.
Rodin gives us the backbone of the fragment as a reconstruction for a new interpretation of human physicality, the headless and armless human body that is authoritative in its step despite its apparent momentary instability. The monumental introspection on the condition of the erect human figure will see modern art confront each other on a red thread that unites Rodin to Giacometti to Balla to Bruno Catalano.
The fragment is a tool that collects the memory and the legacy of a part that brings the whole, if it is the mirror of an existential idea, a reversal on the will to self-determination, to appropriate the dignity of a whole anyway.
Time is a line of continuity but it is the relationship in space that affects every dimension, from the physical to the existential, so the classical fragments are an important link of history and its transverse visibility. The history of Rodin is itself a fragment in the journey of humanity, a signal that echoes in eternity, to know a fragment is to dream of immortality, its resistance and its reaching out from the flesh to the absolute.
The poetics of the fragment is therefore a eulogy to the imagination that does not transcend into the rhetoric of aesthetic research and material justification but is an exhortation, a message, an accent, to search for a motivation not only existential but vital.
The precariousness, the sensation of a loss, the implosion and perhaps also the incommunicability are elements that trace a solution of continuity in the externalization of the ego and therefore the representation of a piece, of a part, that is evident in the margins that mark a break, it is necessary that it leads to a perspective of revenge, of reinterpretation to return to the whole, to rediscover an individual unity, for a rebirth, a new hope.