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The Gates of Hell

On August 16, 1880, Rodin received a commission to create a pair of bronze doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris. Although the museum did not come to fruition and the doors were never fully realized, The Gates of Hell became the defining project of Rodin's career and a key to understanding his artistic aims. During the thirty-seven-year period that the sculptor worked on the project he continually added, removed, or altered the more than two hundred human figures that appear on the doors. Some of his most famous works, like The Thinker, The Three Shades, or The Kiss, were originally conceived as part of The Gates and were only later removed, enlarged, and cast as independent pieces.

Rodin's initial inspiration came from Inferno (Italian for "hell"), the first part of Italian poet Dante Alighieri's (1265–1324) epic poem The Divine Comedy. Rodin imagined the scenes described by Dante as a world with limitless space and a lack of gravitational pull. This allowed for ceaseless and radical experimentation by the artist, with figures that obey no rules in their poses, emotive gestures, or sexuality. For Rodin, the chaotic population on The Gates of Hell enjoyed only one final freedom—the ability to express their agony with complete abandon. In the end, the artist discarded the specific narratives of Dante's poem, and today The Gates is no longer a methodical representation of Inferno. Instead, the figures on the doors poignantly and heart-renderingly evoke universal human emotions and experiences, such as forbidden love, punishment, and suffering, but they also suggest unapologetic sexuality, maternal love, and contemplation.

In Rodin's lifetime The Gates of Hell was never cast in bronze and was known only in a full-size plaster model kept at the artist's studio in Meudon outside of Paris. The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia owns the first bronze cast of The Gates, commissioned in 1925 by the Museum's founder, Jules Mastbaum. At the time, Mastbaum ordered two sets of the doors—one for Philadelphia and one for the Musée Rodin in Paris.


Third Architectural Model for "The Gates of Hell"
Auguste Rodin
Eternal Springtime
Auguste Rodin
 
Danaid (The Source)
Auguste Rodin
Young Mother in the Grotto
Auguste Rodin
 
Sorrow (No. 2)
Auguste Rodin
The Benedictions
Auguste Rodin
 
The Death of Adonis
Auguste Rodin
Fording the Stream
Auguste Rodin
 
Despairing Man
Auguste Rodin
The Sirens
Auguste Rodin
 
The Thinker
Auguste Rodin
The Shade
Auguste Rodin
 
Adam
Auguste Rodin
Eve
Auguste Rodin
 
Oceanides
Auguste Rodin
The Thinker
Auguste Rodin
 
Shame (Absolution)
Auguste Rodin
Eternal Springtime
Auguste Rodin
 
Meditation
Auguste Rodin
Youth Triumphant
Auguste Rodin
 
The Helmet-Maker's Wife
Auguste Rodin
Evil Spirits
Auguste Rodin
 
Head of Crying Girl
Auguste Rodin
The Centauress
Auguste Rodin
 
Kneeling Fauness
Auguste Rodin
Mask of Crying Girl
Auguste Rodin
 
Head of Sorrow (Joan of Arc)
Auguste Rodin
Mask of the Man with the Broken Nose
Auguste Rodin
 
I Am Beautiful
Auguste Rodin
Copy of Rodin's "The Kiss"
Henri Gréber
 
Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Platter
Auguste Rodin
The Crouching Woman
Auguste Rodin
 
Decorative Pilaster from "The Gates of Hell" (bottom section)
Auguste Rodin
The Martyr
Auguste Rodin
 
Decorative Pilaster from "The Gates of Hell" (top section)
Auguste Rodin
Bas-relief for "The Gates of Hell"
Auguste Rodin
 
Bas-relief for "The Gates of Hell"
Auguste Rodin
The Sirens
Auguste Rodin
 
Polyphemus, Acis, and Galatea
Auguste Rodin
Polyphemus
Auguste Rodin
 
Young Mother in the Grotto
Auguste Rodin