The Influence of Bernini on Rodin: Preparatory Terracotta

By Mary Williams

Figure 24: Bernini, "Model of and Angel and Cherub for the Celestial Glory," ca. 1663, Florence, Museo Horne (source-http://bernini.kimbellart.org/exhibit/saint-peters/saint-francis-ecstasy-0)

Figure 24: Bernini, “Model of Angel and Cherub for the Celestial Glory,” ca. 1663, Florence, Museo Horne (source-http://bernini.kimbellart.org/exhibit/saint-peters/saint-francis-ecstasy-0)

Rodin and Bernini were excellent draughtsman, and the two used similar techniques to arrive at a finished sculpture. Although it is less likely that Rodin came into contact with Bernini’s clay models while in Italy, the preparatory figures of both artists reveal  the similar intentions of Rodin’s and Bernini’s sculpture. For an exhibition of Bernini’s terracotta work, art critic Eric Gibson described the importance of clay for the artist. Gibson stated, “If you only know the sculptor from his marbles, you don’t know him at all.”[1] The preparatory works of an artist help decipher which aspects of their work he or she attempted to emphasize. Bernini’s clay models reveal the importance given to motion and composition.

Figure 25: Bernini, "'Celestial Glory' for the Chair of St. Peter," St. Peter's Basillica (source-http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2011/06/veni-sanctae-spiritus.html)

Figure 25: Bernini, “‘Celestial Glory’ for the Chair of St. Peter,” St. Peter’s Basillica (source-http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2011/06/veni-sanctae-spiritus.html)

 

Bernini’s terracotta Model of an Angel and Cherub for the Celestial Glory includes a cherub looking towards an angel gesturing (Figure 24). The work is unfinished, but it contains details of elaborate drapery and curving motion. The work was a draft for Celestial Glory above the Chair of St. Peter (Figure 25). The angels and cherubs of “Celestial Glory” surround the Holy Spirit in joyful movements. Bernini chose to focus on movement and drapery in his terracotta sketch. His attention to the detail of particular aspects of the sculpture emphasizes the importance he placed on the motion in the work. Bernini chose to articulate the heavenly awe in the Chair of St. Peter with the upward movement and emotion of the figures in Celestial Glory. Terracotta images are separated from their final context, and as a result provide a more simplistic view of the sculptors work. Bernini’s models remove the elaborate layers of his complete sculpture, so that the basic form and shape of the movement is seen. His final sculptures tell various narratives, but the terracotta pieces present motion as the basis of his many narratives.

 

Rodin’s clay sculptures display similar qualities. His Crouching Woman, also known as Lust, is especially comparable to Bernini’s work (Figure 26). The woman crouches down and curves her arm towards her left foot. Her head turns to the opposite direction, and her body twists into an s-shaped curve. The movement and lines of her body parallel the movement of Bernini’s Model of an Angel and Cherub. The cloud and drapery form the s-shape of Bernini’s work. Rodin may not have seen Bernini’s clay sculptures, but he noticed the most important stylistic element of the works. As well as the importance of movement, Rodin learned the various shapes and forms movement could take from Bernini’s sculpture. After returning from Italy, Rodin was able to use various gestures and positions as a base for the narrative his sculpture would communicate. Crouching Woman was a figure created for Rodin’s well-known work, The Gates of Hell (Figure 27). The gates illustrated scenes from Dante’s Inferno.[2] The

Figure 26: Rodin, "Crouching Woman," 1881-1882, Paris, Musee Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/crouching-woman-also-known-lust)

Figure 26: Rodin, “Crouching Woman,” 1881-1882, Paris, Musee Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/crouching-woman-also-known-lust)

figures on the gates face the consequences of their sins and Rodin used twisting, exaggerated movement to convey the torment the people faced. Crouching Woman’s twisted body and turned head strain her body and express the pain she feels. For both Rodin and Bernini, the movement seen in their sketches was used for its aesthetic value and its ability to convey narrative and emotion.

Figure 27: Rodin, "Gates of Hell," 1880-ca.1900, Paris, Musee Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/gates-hell)

Figure 27: Rodin, “Gates of Hell,” 1880-ca.1900, Paris, Musee Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/gates-hell)



[1] Eric Gibson, “Bernini’s Feats of Clay,” New Criterion 31, no. 4 (December 2012): 38, http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=7d6d72e1-6e86-43bc-947a-0997875ded57%40sessionmgr12&vid=6&hid=28 (accessed April 2013).

[2] Albert E. Elsen, “The Gates of Hell” by Auguste Rodin (Stanford California, Stanford University Press, 1985).