Updated 20 October 2022
On Display Forecourt
Photo by (c) Norihiro Ueno
The Gates of Hell
|Date||c. 1880-90/1917 (model), 1930-33 (cast)|
|Materials and Techniques||bronze|
|Size（cm）||540 x 390 x 100|
|Credit Line||Matsukata Collection|
In 1880 Rodin was commissioned by the government to create a set of doors for the entrance of the newly planned construction of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. A fervent reader of Dante, Rodin had already created a group work in 1876 entitled Ugolino and his Sons based on the Divine Comedy, and without hesitation, he decided to create a series of "low reliefs depicting the Divine Comedy" for the doors. He immediately began from work on the project, basing his compositional forms on Ghiberti's Gates of Heaven on the Baptistry in Florence. In his first preparatory sketches, Rodin divided the right and left doors into four vertically arranged panels with scenes from "Hell" shown in low relief over the eight panels with a giant figure placed in the center. However he lost Dante's mythical order and it descended into a chaotic world. Rather than Dante's world, he has entered the Hell found in man's mind, expressed in Baudelaire's poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal. The third stage of the 3-D clay model, which became the gate's final composition, can be seen in the colored plaster cast model. Both the content and the compositional forms have been transformed into chaos in this final version, which generally represents the forms of the completed bronze work. For the rest of his life Rodin was involved in the creation of this work, and he created numerous works which are independent from The Gates of Hell. The man sitting on the center of the tympanum staring down at the figures descending to hell is The Thinker, and The Three Shades standing on top of The Gatse are closely related to the form of Adam. Meditation and Standing Fauness on the right edge of the tympanum and Orpheus and the Maenads stand on the left hand. In the lower part of the right door, Fugit Amor, and in the center of the left door Nereides. The relief on the left attached pillar La Belle Heaulmière and above that pillar Fallen Caryatid. The relief carving I am Beautiful is placed on the upper part of the attached pillar on the right and on the left of The Thinker, the male and female figures separated as Crouching Woman and the man with his body bent back from the upper part of the left door. This large monument was never actually used and it was not cast in bronze during Rodin's lifetime. The Gates were finally cast in the 1920s, and including recent casts, there are now seven Gates in bronze throughout the world. The first two bronzes were cast under commission by Kojiro Matsukata. (Source: Masterpieces of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 2009, cat. no.129)
Bought from Musée Rodin by Kojiro Matsukata, Kobe, ca. October 1920, as ‘Porte de l’Enfer’ (Fr. 600,000) [see minutes of Musée Rodin Board Meeting, 2 Ocrober 1920, in Archives of Musée Rodin, Paris; copy in NMWA curatorial files]; sequestered by French government, 1944; vested in French government under San Francisco Peace Treaty, 1952; transferred from French to Japanese government, 23 January 1959; entered into NMWA, April 1959.
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