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The Gates of Hell

 The "Gates of Hell" were created by the famous French sculpture Auguste Rodin (November 12, 1840 – November 17, 1917) who accepted a commission from the Directorate of Fine Arts to make an impressive door for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris that they were planning to built. His inspiration for the theme of the door came from Dante Alighieri's "The Inferno" from his epic poem "La Divina Commedia" or  "The Divine Comedy", and from Lorenzo Ghiberti's bronze "Gates of Paradise".

"Abandon all hope, you who enter here"
The Gates of Hell

This masterful work became for him a never ending source for numerous sculptures turning famous independently of the original project. Like most talented artists he was insecure whether he had achieved to successfully transfer his vision into his sculpting and at several stages while the work still in progress he would invite friends to show them the project and carefully listen to their comments. He developed the habit of removing pieces from their location and casting enlarged versions which were immediately embraced by the critics and the public for their enormous depth and beauty as illustrated separately in The Thinker (showing a man in sober meditation battling a formidable internal struggle) and The Kiss (depicting the tragic and passionate love of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta from Dante's "The Divine Comedy") and then he would rearrange the composition or place them back at their original location.

Dimensions of the Gates of Hell

  • The Gates of Hell stand at 6 meters high (19' 44")
  • They are 4 meters wide (13' 16") T
  • They are 1 meter deep (3' 29") T
  • They contain 180 figures
  • The figures range from 15 centimeters high up to more than one meter.
  • Several of the figures were also cast independently by Rodin.
It is possible that not many people know the "Gates of Hell" were inspired by Dante's "Divine Comedy" or that its central characters were used as main figures in the composition of the "Gates of Hell" or that "The Thinker" was initially called "The Poet", is located above the door panels and that there is an interpretation that suggests it might represent Dante looking down to the characters in his Inferno but also there is another interpretation which suggests that the Thinker is Rodin himself meditating about his composition! 

It sounds confusing but is not and is really very simple: Rodin was fascinated by  Dante's "Divine Comedy" and upon reading the epic poem had even drawn sketches of the main characters. Then in 1880 the Directorate of Fine Arts commissioned him to make an impressive door for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris that they were planning to built (and was never built!). The agreement was that Rodin will deliver the doors in 1885 (he worked on them on and of for 37 years and were not finished until his death in 1917) and that he would have complete artistic freedom in choosing the theme for the doors. Well, as I mentioned above, being a Dante admirer for many years and having already drawn sketches of the poet's main characters, Rodin decided to use as his theme Dante's Inferno hence begun the birth of the "Gates of Hell".

Never before had work of such colossal scale being attempted. Inspiration came to him from medieval cathedrals that he had studied in the past and especially the bronze doors of "Gates of Paradise" that in 10 panels depict Biblical scenes and figures from the Old Testament and were created by the 15th century Italian Renaissance sculpture Lorenzo Ghiberti for the East Entrance of the Baptistery of St. John in Florence Italy and took Ghiberti 21 years to finish his masterpiece.

Rodin worked on his project on the ground floor of the Hôtel Biron that in 1919, (two years after his death), became the Rodin Museum and houses a cast of The Gates of Hell and other  related works that upon his death he had donated along with reproduction rights to the French Government.

The Gates of Hell
"Fugit Amor" (above), is detail from the left panel of the Gates of Hell depicting the doomed lovers Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta.

The Gates of Hell
Detail from the right panel of the Gates of Hell depicting "Ugolino and his sons" and directly below "Paolo and Francesca" as he tries to hold on to Francesca who slips away.

The Gates of Hell
Detail of "Gates of Hell"

The Gates of Hell
I have put 2 red circles indicating location of the above mentioned groups.

Molon Lave Semper Fidelis
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