Influence of Bernini on Rodin: First Trip to Italy
By Mary Williams
In 1873 Rodin was commissioned to aid Jules Pécher and Van Rasbourg in the completion of a monument to François Loos (Figure 1).
Rodin traveled back and forth between France and Antwerp to work with the two sculptors. Upon completing the monument, Rodin remarked,
“I worked on those figures with the greatest ardor from a decorative point of view, and it was while I was making the figure of the sailor that I was struck with its resemblance to statues of Michelangelo, though I had not had him in mind…To satisfy my mind of the reality of this resemblance and to confirm my hope of its depth and value, either as the result of long years of effort, or as the effect of my admiration for him, I made a lot of sketches to see if I could get the same character, but without success.”
Inspired by his work on the Loos monument, Rodin traveled to Italy for two months in the winter of 1874-75. He spent time in Florence and Rome studying Michelangelo’s sculptures. While in Italy, he wrote letters to Rose Beuret, his mistress and lifelong companion, which described the effect Michelangelo had on his work (Figure 2). Through a study of Michelangelo’s sculpture, Rodin learned to more accurately sculpt the human figure. Judith Cladel described the influence of Michelangelo by stating, “But it was the modeling, the tremendous power of the modeling, and it took him three or four years of studying and comparing Michael Angelo’s figures with living models to
find this out. As he said, the great master set him free, gave him final instruction, handed down to him the masculine sculpture.” Clearly the trip to Italy informed Rodin on new ways to represent the figure, and the musculature of his later work suggests Michelangelo’s influence. After his trip, Rodin completed The Age of Bronze, which evokes the figures and poses Michelangelo created (Figure 3). The sculpture is often compared to Michelangelo’s The Bound Slave (Figure 4). Both works illustrate a man with his hand reaching up to his head and have similar representations of the torso.
The influence of Michelangelo is unmistakable in Rodin’s sculpture, however Michelangelo’s influence does not account for the dynamism Rodin’s later works have. During the first trip, although not mentioned in his early letters, Rodin must have seen the works of Bernini and learned to portray dramatic movement and emotion.
 Ruth Butler, Rodin: The Shape of Genius (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1996) 81-82.
 From the notes of Truman Bartlett, as quoted in Albert Elsen, Rodin (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1963) 207.
 Judith Cladel, Rodin, trans. James Whitall (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937) 43-47.