Influence of Bernini on Rodin: Second Trip to Italy

By Mary Williams

Evidence for the influence of Gianlorenzo Bernini on Auguste Rodin’s sculpture can be found in a later trip to Italy. Rodin’s specific opinions on the work of Italian artists were well documented during his first and last trips, though he visited Italy a few times throughout his career. He left for his final trip to Italy in September of 1914 at the age of 76. Rodin occupied much his time in Rome by walking around the city with Albert Besnard, who was the director of the Villa Medici. Rodin also rented a room in Rome and sculpted from his temporary studio. [1] In accounts of his time with Rodin, Besnard described Rodin’s appreciation Bernini’s work.[2] Notably, he commented, “He never tired of admiring Bernini’s busts and he was obviously attracted by the skilful posing. He hovered about them as though trying to discover their secret.”[3] According to Besnard, Rodin was impressed by Bernini’s sculpture and attempted to learn from his work. Rodin’s admiration of the Baroque artist did not diminish, and in a later conversation with Judith Cladel he continued to praise the Bernini’s achievements.[4] Given the strong effect Bernini’s sculpture had on Rodin, it is unlikely that the only time Rodin noticed Bernini’s work was during his final trip to Italy. In his research, Joseph Gantner is the only art historian to specifically address the Baroque period’s influence on Rodin.[5] Gantner contended,

“Nothing is more natural than to be reminded of Baroque designs in the work of Rodin. This world of passionate movements of wild embraces, the lofty recitations, the great tragic emotion, the jubilant joy – it has in the history of art only a true parallel, specifically the Baroque in its heyday, as he quite exclusively has experienced in Italy.”[6]

The parallels of movement and emotion between Rodin’s and Bernini’s sculpture were clear examples of the effects the Baroque had on Rodin. While many scholars exclusively recognized Rodin’s appreciation of Bernini in the documentation of his final trip, the extent of his admiration and the sculptures he produced after his first trip to Italy indicate the influence Bernini had on Rodin.

[1] Judith Cladel, Rodin, trans. James Whitall (NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937) 248-250.

[2] Albert Besnard, Sous le ciel de Rome (Éditions de France, 1925)

[3] Originally quoted in Albert Besnard, Sous le ciel de Rome. Translation from Judith Cladel, Rodin, 249.

[4] See quote on Introduction. Judith Cladel, Rodin, 258. According to Cladel, their conversation about Bernini and Rome occurred in February of 1915, months after Rodin’s return from Italy.  His desire to discuss the sculptor long after his return further indicates how Bernini impressed Rodin.

[5] This assumption is based on my continued research on Rodin. Although I have not exhausted every source, Gantner’s work is the only one I have come across that describes a direct relationship between Bernini and Rodin. Gantner also cites the final trip to Italy as an example of the impression Bernini left on Rodin.

[6] This is my own translation from the German of the following “Nichts ist natürlicher, als sich vor den Werken Rodins an barocke Gestaltungen erinnert zu fühlen. Diese Welt der leidenschaftlichen Bewegungen, der wilden Umarmungen, der pathetischen Deklamationen, das großen tragischen Affekts, der jubelnden Freude–sie hat in der Geschichte der Kunst nur eine wirkliche Parallele, eben den Barock in seiner volltönenden Blütezeit, wie er sie so ganz ausschließlich nur in Italien erlebt hat. ” Joseph Gantner, Rodin und Michelangelo (Wien: Verlag Anton Schroll & Co., 1953) 76-77.