Some Dudes in Bronze

Auguste Rodin is sometimes called a Symbolist sculptor. He didn’t look the emo part, though. Rather, he had a Lord of the Rings dwarf air about him due to his fantastic beard. His most famous work is, of course, The Thinker and it was originally intended as a portrait of Dante contemplating his great poem or his trip to Hell.

Source: Wikipedia

There’s no need to talk about this piece. It’s everywhere and everybody knows it. It’s been on the Simpsons at least once and that makes it the statue among statues that symbolizes sculpture. Not many people know that it’s supposed to be a poet, though. It’s usually used to represent philosophy and people who like to make a clear separation between philosophy and poetry might find that interesting.

But there was a lot more to Rodin who was even in his own time the leading sculptor in the world. He looked to Italy for inspiration, but at the same time gave Renaissance art a new twist. Take, for instance, this figure called The Age of Bronze inspired by Michaelangelo’s Dying Slave:

Source: Wikipedia

Michaelangelo wins this round, but there’s clearly something else than an idealized youth in a dramatic situation going on here. It’s more realistic, reserved, clearly a person and not a thing that inhabits the realm between gods and men. In fact, Rodin was accused of simply casting an actual person, it’s so life-like. That’s a pretty flattering accusation, but he was also forced to make up stories about what the statue Symbolized or depicted. It could not remain just the likeness of some dude. In fact, he didn’t think it was about anything.

His St. John the Baptist Preaching showed that he had learned his lesson. The statue is too big to be a cast of an actual person and it has a biblical story attached to it.

Source: Wikipedia

It even has that John the Baptisty gesture, the finger pointing upward to God and salvation. But, again, it is clearly just some guy, not a hero or demigod.

If you’ve ever seen those real-life renderings of cartoon characters online you might sort of get the idea behind these works. They are as-if versions of those old masterpieces and the stories behind them, real-life renderings of some of the greatest themes in Western art. Had our stories and legends been made into the actual likeness of man they might have looked something like this.

As Rodin’s fame grew he was able to worry less about impressing wealthy patrons and being assessed through the work of others. As a result, he often made incomplete figures. Something like this Walking Man thing:

Source: Wikipedia

That’s not to say he just finished early because he was lazy. This is a bit better informed use of technique than that. It looks ancient and battered by time. The Realist tendency gives it away, though. It does not have the elegant simplicity of Greek statuary or the over articulated musculature of the Romans. It’s too subdued to be a Renaissance piece as well. If Impressionism can be found in sculpture it’s probably here.

1 Response to “Some Dudes in Bronze”



  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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