Interpretive Resource

Examination: Rodin's Adam

An exploration of Rodin's ability to convey physical and emotional torment in his towering sculpture of Adam.

Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 66.

With his right leg raised and his torso tensed and wrenched into an unnatural position, Auguste Rodin’s Adam appears horribly disfigured, despite his idealized proportions and serene facial expression. His right arm and hand, perhaps drawn from Michelangelo’s figure of Adam at the center of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, point emphatically downward, as if to indicate the fall of man, while his left hand desperately clutches his right knee. "I . . . tried to express the inner feelings of the man by the mobility of the muscles," wrote the artist about this piece. The rigid musculature of the figure’s hands and legs, the twisted trunk of the body, and the emphatic straining of the head, as neck and shoulder collapse into a nearly horizontal plane, all serve to convey a sense of physical pain, certainly related to the emotional torment of having been banished by God from Paradise.

Rodin originally intended his towering, contorted sculpture of Adam and its pendant, Eve, to flank the Gates of Hell, a monumental bronze doorway of bas-reliefs illustrating various cantos from Dante’s Divine Comedy. The doorway—capped by looming representations of the three shades, which repeat the basic form of Adam—was commissioned by the French government in 1880 for a new museum of decorative arts in Paris. The museum was never built, and Rodin left the portal unfinished at his death. Nevertheless, the project became well known during the artist’s lifetime, for he cast individual figures and groups, some of which appeared in a large exhibition of works by Rodin and Claude Monet held at the prestigious Parisian gallery of Georges Petit in 1889.

emotions, portraits, religious scenes


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