When you think of Rodin’s Thinker, you probably think philosophy?
I used to think that Rodin was inspired by Descartes,
the famous French philosopher best known for his quote ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Well, I must admit I was slightly disappointed to discover that there was no connection between Descartes and Rodin’s Thinker (well, none that I could find).
So history suggests that philosophy is out and Hell is in…
Rodin was initially commissioned in 1880 to create a doorway surround called the Gates of Hell which was based on Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy. In fact, The Thinker was first named The Poet. Yes, I know, it doesn’t have the same ring as The Thinker, does it? The name The Thinker was inspired by the foundry workers who cast many of Rodin’s sculptures. It reminded them of Michelangelo’s famous tombstone work of Lorenzo de’ Medici (below), where Medici sits tall, grand and pondering (possibly his untimely death at the age of 43). However, I feel that the resemblance is limited. Rodin’s Thinker is so deep in thought, his whole body is contorted verging on almost tortured by the supposed benign action, whereas Lorenzo is stoic and pensive.
Perhaps Rodin wasn’t referring to Michelangelo’s work in this quote. Maybe he was rediscovering his very own work The Poet. In 1888, The Thinker emerged as a stand alone piece of work for Rodin after a small 3 foot version made its exhibition debut to much appraise. Rodin was inspired to continue developing The Thinker, but now as a stand alone piece. From there, the 6 foot version we know of today, emerged.
I have been lucky enough to see the Thinker up close and personal in the Musee Rodin in Paris. But being Australian, I needn’t have gone that far as our very own National Gallery of Victoria has a casting of the Thinker too and it is the first bronze casting made during Rodin’s lifetime in 1884. In fact, during his life, Rodin supervised the making of 10 castings, and even after his death, more were produced with the permission from the Nation of France.
In the words of Rodin himself,
“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.”
Françoise Auguste Rene Rodin: 1840 -1917 Credit: Public domain WikiCommons
Did you know?
Unfortunately the Cleveland Museum Thinker fell victim to a bombing in the 1970s. Explosives were strapped to the Thinkers feet and his lower legs were blown off. The sculpture still remains, but hasn’t been repaired.
Cleveland Thinker Credit: Public domain WikiCommons
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Credit The Thinker photo: Jesusccastillo, Wikicommons