A Return to My Favorite Museum
When I was in Paris as a student, I loved the Rodin Museum. It’s housed in an old mansion with a beautiful sculpture garden. I bought an annual pass to this museum so that I could just come and visit it, and hang out in the gardens.
‘The Bronze Age’ is one of Rodin’s first major works, and it was highly controversial. Not because of the subject, but because it was so good that people thought it was a cast of a model instead of a work of art.
I can’t remember the name of this one – or find it quickly. It might be ‘the spirit of war’. I think it has to do with a sculpture that Rodin was working on for France – and it represented war or freedom. I believe the woman is supposed to be France, and she is giving a rallying cry over the bodies of wounded men. I love the emotion.
The Kiss is one of Rodin’s most famous works – it comes from a study he was doing for The Gates of Hell (based on Dante’s Inferno). It represents Francesca e Paolo. Paolo was looking after his big brother’s wife … and they fell in love over poetry. They had an affair, and hence were headed for hell. In earlier studies, the sculpture shows a book laid aside as they embrace. Rodin was not actually very fond of this work – he found it too sentimental.
The Age of Maturity is another one of my favorites. It was actually done by Camille Claudel – a student and muse of Rodin’s with whom he had a long term affair. Camille made this sculpture after Rodin left her. It represents Camille on her knees, begging Rodin to stay. And an aging Rodin being led away by his wife.
The Thinker was another study Rodin did for the Gates of Hell. It represents Dante looking down over hell, as represented by Rodin.
I love the Burghers of Calais too – especially when it’s displayed as it is here, at eye level, so you can walk around the men and see the emotion that they feel. The Sculpture captures a moment in The Hundred Years’ War when England’s Edward III laid seige to Calais. Edward offered to spare the people of the city if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out almost naked, wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. Six men volunteered. Ultimately their lives were spared by the queen, who asked her husband to spare their lives and suggested that killing them would be a bad omen for their unborn child.
The Gates of Hell was Rodin’s unfinished masterwork … it’s amazing to walk up to it and poke through all of the figures. It’s more interesting, of course, if you know their stories. But it’s amazing too to see how small the final figures are on the gates – given that he made such large studies for them.