The Influence of Bernini on Rodin: Rodin’s Sculpture Prior to Italy

By Mary Williams

An analysis of Rodin’s sculpture prior to departing for Italy characterizes his early work and establishes a basis for comparison to the work of Bernini. Before his trip to Italy, Rodin spent a brief period at Pères du Très-Saint-Sacrement as Brother Augustin. The death of his sister Maria led Rodin to turn to the Christian faith.

Figure: Rodin, "Father Pierre-Julien Eymard," 1863, Paris, Musée Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/father-eymard)

Figure 10: Rodin, “Father Pierre-Julien Eymard,” 1863, Paris, Musée Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/father-eymard)

As a result of his time as a novice, Rodin completed a bust of the founder of the religious order, Father Pierre-Julien  Eymard (Figure 10).[1] The bust of Eymard has a striking jaw-line and a furrowed brow. His figure sits upright and has a rigid quality. Rodin captured details of the father’s likeness, but Rodin did not depict a sense of life or emotion in the bust. Truman H. Bartlett described the early bust by Rodin and stated, “The little plaster bust of the priest Aymar, is also dry, though thoroughly studied as a form, and the nature of the subject preserved with inflexible tenacity.”[2] As Bartlett noticed, the bust lacked elements of personality. The stoicism and expressionless face of Father Eymard illustrate the problems Rodin faced in his early development.

Rodin continued working as a sculptor and completed a few works on his own and in workshops under Carrier-Belleuse and Antoine-Joseph van Rasbourg.[3] Many of his early works closely resembled ancient art. While working for Carrier-Belleuse Rodin created classicized works such as Man with the Broken Nose (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Rodin, "Man with the Broken Nose," 1874-1875, Paris, Musée Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/man-broken-nose)

Figure 11: Rodin, “Man with the Broken Nose,” 1874-1875, Paris, Musée Rodin (source-http://www.musee-rodin.fr/en/collections/sculptures/man-broken-nose)

The face of the man evokes Greek and Roman portrait busts, such as Marble Head of Demosthenes (Figure 12). The curled hair and modeling of the facial features demonstrate Rodin’s early adherence to the form of ancient sculptures. Rodin exhibited an early talent for modeling in Man with the Broken Nose, however the sculpture is inanimate. The eyes maintain a blank expression, similar to the eyes of Father Eymard. Rodin would continue to struggle with capturing life in the human figure until his trip to Italy.

Figure 12: Roman "Marble Head of Demosthenes," 2nd Century A.D., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (source-http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/130018486?rpp=60&pg=3&ft=ancient+greek+bust&pos=153)

Figure 12: Roman “Marble Head of Demosthenes,” 2nd Century A.D., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (source-http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/130018486?rpp=60&pg=3&ft=ancient+greek+bust&pos=153)

 


[1] Judith Cladel, Rodin, trans. James Whitall (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937) 18-19.

[2] Truman, H. Bartlett, ““Illustrated Life of Rodin: the foremost of French sculptors of the day,” American Architect and Architecture 25, no. 682-703 (January-June 1889):249.

[3] Jean-François Chabrun and Robert Descharnes. Auguste Rodin. Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 1967. 41-45.