There are few sculptures that are as iconic as The Thinker. Made by French artist Auguste Rodin, the statue shows a muscular figure in his moment of concentrated introspection. Rodin made a number of other marble and bronze editions, but his most famous version is the 6-foot bronze statue siting in the gardens of the Rodin Museum in Paris. With that in mind, let’s talk more about the Thinker, and explore deeply the world of Rodin’s work.
The Thinker was not initially cast as a “solo star”. He was the breakout star of a bigger work. The depiction of a nude man hunched over in apparent was originally part of the “Gates of Hell” work. Rodin’s idea was to capture the first section of the Divine Comedy, the epic poem by Dante Alighieri.
The Gates of Hell was originally meant to be part of a new museum of decorative arts in Paris. Sadly, the Gates of Hell was never finished, and the museum was never build.
There have been many ideas and theories who is actually the Thinker? The most popular one, and the most plausible one is that he is actually Dante. But there have been other theories as well. For example, some believe that the statue is actually Rodin himself, meditating about his composition. There are also theories that the figure is actually Adam, contemplating the destruction brought upon mankind because of his sin.
Michelangelo’s work can be seen all over the Thinker. Now, it wasn’t Michelangelo’s pose that Rodin was referencing. But he chose to follow the style of the heroic nudes of Michelangelo and his Renaissance brethren.
The reason why the sculpture is nude is because Rodin wanted heroic figure that will represent intellect, as well as poetry. Just the way Michelangelo did it.
Some historians, however, believe that the inspiration for the Thinker came from the German sculptor Hugo Rheinhold, who was a contemporary to Rodin. Hugo also had an interest in poses that favored the natural and realistic postures of man.
You can see the Thinker all over the world. Rodin himself made more than 10 castings of the Thinker. After he died in 1917, the nation of France got the rights to recast Rodin. Since then, the number of castings made more than 20.
You can see the Thinker in Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, Geneva’s Musee d’Art et d’Histoire, Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, Paris’ Musee Rodin, Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art, and Metropolitan Museum in New York. There is also a statue that marks Rodin’s grave.
There have been many theories what made the Thinker so successful. After all, it is one of the most iconic statues in the world. The popularity of the piece has frequently been credited to the familiar emotion it projects, which is “being lost deep in thought, frozen from action”. But Rodin goes a step further. He explains what made the Thinker so successful:
“What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes”
Originally, Rodin wanted to call the statue “The Poet”, to pay tribute to Dante. It was foundry workers who gave the name Thinker to the statue. They noted that the statue is similar to Michelangelo’s statue of Lorenzo de Medici called “Il Penseroso” (which translates to the Thinker).
During the creation of Gates of Hell, Rodin at one point thought about having his statue clothed. But, as he later acknowledged, “thin ascetic Dante in his straight robe separated from all the rest would have been without meaning”.
Because of that, he conceived a naked man,
seated on a rock, his fist against his teeth, and he dreams. He is no longer a
dreamer, he is a creator.
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