The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

“The Gates of Hell” by Auguste Rodin

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The Gates of Hell is a sculptural group created by Auguste Rodin that depicts a scene from “The Inferno” from Dante Alighieri’s book the Divine Comedy. The sculpture was commissioned in 1880, it became Rodin’s life work as he continued to work on and off on this project for 37 years, until his death in 1917.

The Gates of Hell stands at 6 metres high, 4 metres wide and 1 metre deep (19.7×13.1×3.3 ft) and contains 180 figures. The figures range from 15 centimetres (6 in) high up to more than one metre (3 ft). Many of the characters were modelled and cast separately as stand-alone art sculptures.

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One of the reasons Rodin took so long with this masterpiece, is that many of the original small-scale sculptures used on the Gate were enlarged and reworked and became stand-alone works of art of their own. Examples of  include:

  • “The Thinker” is located above the door panels.
  • “The Kiss” was initially in The Gate, Rodin removed the figures that became known as The Kiss because it seemed to conflict with the other suffering figures.
  • “Ugolino and His Children”, who according to the story, ate the corpses of his children after they died of starvation.
  • “The Three Shades” which originally pointed to the phrase “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.
  • “Fleeting Love”, is located on the right door panel, it is one of several figures of lovers that represent Paolo and Francesca da Rimini.
  • “Paolo and Francesca”, is shown on the left door panel. Paolo tries to reach Francesca, who seems to slip away.
  • “Meditation”, appears on the rightmost part of the tympanum.
  • “The Old Courtesan”, a naked female body.
  • “Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone”, is based on the figure at the top of the left pilaster.
  • “I Am Beautiful”, is among the second set of figures on the extreme right portion of the door.
  • “Eternal Springtime”
  • “Adam” and “Eve”

The “Gates of Hell” was never cast in bronze in Rodin’s lifetime and was only executed in a full-size plaster model which was kept at the artist’s studio in Meudon outside of Paris. The first bronze cast of the Gates was commissioned in 1925. Fortunately, today there are several bronze versions across the world, that reflect Rodin’s vision.

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The Gates of Hell:

  • Title:                     The Gates of Hell
  • Year:                     Commissioned 1880,  work on and off  until his death in 1917
  • Place of Origin:  France
  • Material:              Bronze
  • Museum:              Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

Auguste Rodin:

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“I invent nothing, I rediscover.” Auguste Rodin

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons