The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

The Sirens

Rodin Museum - Joy of Museums - The Sirens

“The Sirens” modelled by Auguste Rodin, depicts sea nymphs from Greek mythology who lure sailors to their destruction through their enchanting song.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens (Greek: Σειρῆνες) were dangerous creatures, who lured sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. The Sirens were the companions of young Persephone and they were given wings by Demeter to search for Persephone when she was abducted. After failing to find Persephone, Demeter cursed the Sirens for failing to intervene in the abduction of Persephone.

The most famous Sirens’ literary reference is in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus was curious to hear the Sirens sing and on the advice of Circe, he had all of his sailors plug their ears with beeswax.  He ordered his men to tie him to the mast without the earplugs and to leave him tied tightly to the mast, no matter how much he would beg. When Odysseus heard their beautiful song, he ordered the sailors to untie him but they bound him tighter. When they had passed out of earshot, Odysseus was released. Post-Homeric authors state that the Sirens were fated to die if someone heard their singing and escaped them. Thus after Odysseus passed by they flung themselves into the water and perished.

Like many other works by Rodin associated with water the fluid shapes suggest a smooth sensuality, which in “The Sirens” stands in strong contrast to the women’s malicious behavior.  Rodin first conceived “The Sirens” in 1887, when he worked to create a definitive plaster, which was used as the basis for a large number of bronze casts and studio marble versions. He then miniaturized them, and placed them in his aesthetic prison, “The Gates of Hell.” These figures can be seen halfway up the left panel of The Gates of Hell.

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Rodin’s Sirens continue to lure us today with their smooth wave-like bodies and silent song.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     The Sirens
  • Year:                     Modelled in clay 1887; cast in bronze 1925
  • Place of Origin:   France
  • Material:              Bronze Casting
  • Dimensions:       17 3/4 x 7 1/4 x 10 1/2 inches (45.1 x 18.4 x 26.7 cm)
  • Museum:              Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

Artist Essential Facts:

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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)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons