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The Gates Of Hell

In 1880, Rodin was commissioned by the French government to produce a sculptured portal of bronze for the Museum of Decorative Arts that was to be built in Paris. This door was later known as The Gates of Hell.Rodin set to work immediately, and by mid-1884, he had reached a stage near enough completion to request an estimate of the cost of casting in bronze. But while the actual bronze casting of the work was being delayed by a continuing flow of commissions, the Museum changed its construction site to the Louvre, leaving no room for The Gates. With no reason to cast them, Rodin finally gave up on completing this work of art. All of the existing bronze casts of The Gates, including the one in the Samsung collection, were made posthumously.

As is well known, when he received the commission for The Gates, Rodin chose Dante's Inferno as his theme and Ghiberti's Renaissance bronze door, Gates of Paradise (1432) that he had seen during a trip to Italy, as his visual inspiration. As the work progressed, Rodin discarded Ghiberti's concept of dividing a door into panels and substituted this for a more unified composition reminiscent of Michelangelo's The Last Judgment. The Gates of Hell consists of two door panels, in which a myriad of sculpted, undulating bodies in pain struggle, fall, and clasp each other in a sea of furious waves known as the inferno. The tympanum is also full of figures in various poses and gestures, similar to the "horror vacui" of the Middle Ages. A seated figure almost jumping out from the relief background of the tympanum is The Thinker, a figure symbolizing Dante.

The Gates of Hell is an awe-inspiring work as a whole, yet the endless streams and concatenations of small figures present great difficulties to the beholder who attempts to experience them individually. The figures, imprisoned in a five-meter-tall structure under endlessly changing daylight, create dramatic accents of light and dark and tend to dissolve into the structure.

In The Gates, Rodin dramatized his sense of human tragedy and created a microcosm of worldly existence. He worked as if he were a theatre director who makes efforts to find a complete expression of his concept; he rearranged, redesigned, and reassembled his plaster figures. In Rodin's "inferno," men and women, the old and the young, the good and the evil are all being punished with equal revenge and obstinacy. The Gates of Hell seems to represent an overwhelming force of fierce movement, as if it had been created by a despair resulting from spiritual torment about human existence and uncontrollable desires of the flesh and greed. It is a new type of visual epic.

The Gates of Hell