Art and Controversy in Philadelphia
The Gates of Hell
Looming in front of you is Rodin’s Gates of Hell.
Let’s stop here so we can admire this massive work by the sculptor.
[1.5 SECOND PAUSE]
Rodin was asked to create doors for a new museum being built in Paris. When he was told he could create the doors using whatever subject matter he liked, I’m not sure those making the request anticipated a work depicting lost souls being flung into the fiery depths of Hell.
The work was originally meant to depict scenes from Dante’s Inferno, but it took on a life of its own. Though the Inferno continued to be the inspiration for the piece, the intertwining characters were created from a variety of works, or from Rodin’s imagination.
Unfortunately, the museum was scrapped, but Rodin continued to work on The Gates of Hell for 37 years, all the way up to his death. Never truly completing the work, it sat in its original plaster form for years, until the first bronze cast was made to be displayed here in Philadelphia.
There are many characters featured on the Gates of Hell like The Thinker, and The Three Shades, that were later turned into single, larger, sculptures.
The lack of detail on many of the figures on The Gates of Hell was thought to be due to Rodin not finishing his work. But in actuality, the lack of detail is purposeful. Always the pusher of boundaries, Rodin wanted to create a piece of sculpture that rebelled against detailed perfection and instead portrayed the abstract. The abstract nature of the piece increases the intensity of the characters’ despair. It almost seems like some of the figures are melting away as they descend, helplessly, into the chaos.
It is said that many of the faces of the women in the sculpture are those Rodin knew throughout his life. Although it would be cool to be immortalized in a work of art, I’m not so sure I’d want to be portrayed as a sinful figure in agony receiving her just punishment by being tossed into the eternal inferno.
[1.5 SECOND PAUSE]
When you’re finished viewing The Gates of Hell, walk down the stairs and continue going to the right along the path.