Musee Rodin in Paris is a visual delight and provides the quintessential opportunity to stroll and reflect as many hope to do on their visit to La Ville-Lumière (City of Lights).
The question many ask in the garden is, "What is the thinker thinking about?" The answer is clear when we put the thinker back into his original context.
The Thinker is facing the place he originated. Across the garden is Rodin's,"Gates of Hell".
The thinker is Dante Alighieri. His facial features and headdress match that of Dante. Atop the gates, Dante is contemplating his Divine Comedy. He is pondering eternity: hell, purgatory and paradise. The gates were a commission from the French Government and Dante's Comedy was the theme requested. William Blake had created illustrations inspired by the Divine Comedy of which Rodin used for inspiration. "Rodin studied Blake's illustrations of Dante on his return to Paris, thus enlarging his vision and ambition." (Artcyclopedia, August 2011)
The Thinker, and other well known scupltures of Rodin originated from the gates. "During the thirty-seven-year period that the sculptor worked on the project he continually added, removed, or altered the more than two hundred human figures that appear on the doors. Some of his most famous works, like The Thinker, The Three Shades, or The Kiss, were originally conceived as part of The Gates and were only later removed, enlarged, and cast as independent pieces." (Musee Rodin)
The museum claims that Rodin discarded the theme. The narrative of the museum dismisses eternal or hellish themes for something more centered to daily human suffering. This however does not change the origin of the art. "The Three Shades (Les trois Ombres), who stand above the Thinker, originally pointed to the famous phrase: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" ("Abandon all hope, ye who enter here") from Canto 3 of the Inferno."
Reading the first book of The Divine Comedy, The Inferno, one can relate the figures floating throughout the gate.
“I am the way into the city of woe,
I am the way into eternal pain,
I am the way to go among the lost.
Justice caused my high architect to move,
Divine omnipotence created me,
The highest wisdom, and the primal love.
Before me there were no created things
But those that last forever—as do I.
Abandon all hope you who enter here.”
― Dante Alighieri, Inferno
The Thinker is familiar to many. We should reflect his immobile contemplation concerning the elements and timelines of our own lives.
Thinking upon the eternal helps us construct our worldview and conform our daily actions.
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