The Norton Simon Museum section contains three pages of sculptures and paintings from the
Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, including sculptures by Rodin, Asian sculptures,
and Late Medieval to Modern paintings. This Index page houses sample images from each page.

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Norton Simon Museum Index

Paintings          Sculptures          Rodin Bronzes


di Arpo Coronation of Virgin Altarpiece HS7664

Coronation of the Virgin Altarpiece, Guariento di Arpo, 1344, Italian, tempera and gold leaf on 32 panels.

Strongly influenced by Giotto di Bondone, the first pre-Renaissance painter to break with Byzantine style and create realistic images from life, leading directly to the new styles of the Renaissance (see the Florence section), this altarpiece from the early part of di Arpo’s career illustrates the major events of the New Testament in panels surrounding the central image of Mary being crowned as the Queen of Heaven. It likely stood at the main altar of San Martino church in Piove di Sacco, outside of Padua. The use of color and refined linear technique anticipate the International Gothic style of the late 14th and early 15th centuries.

Guariento di Arpo, like Paolo Veneziano, is known for his fusion of the Gothic and Venetian
styles of painting, providing a bridge between the Medieval and Renaissance periods in art.
Guariento di Arpo was the first painter of distinction from the city of Padua, west of Venice.


Reni St. Cecilia 3470

Saint Cecilia, Guido Reni, 1606, Italian, oil on canvas.

Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, was an early Christian martyr, killed in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180. According to legend, she could play any musical instrument and was so exalted she could hear the singing of angels. Here, with her eyes turned toward  heaven, she plays a violin; in the background is an organ.

Saint Cecilia exhibits the refined colors, delicate flesh tones, soft modeling, and the emotional and pious sentimentality which made Guido Reni the most sought-after Bolognese painter of the early 17th century. Born into a  family of musicians, Guido Reni was apprenticed at the age of nine in the studio of the Flemish painter Denis Calvaert, where he trained with Domenichino and Francesco Albani, all of whom moved in 1595 to a rival studio led by Lodovico Carracci. Together, these three formed a nucleus of Bolognese painters who followed Annibale Carracci to Rome to paint the frescoes in the Farnese Palace in late 1601.

This early work was commissioned from Reni by Cardinal Sfondrati, who enthusiastically promoted the cult of Saint Cecilia after the discovery of her remains in 1599. The picture was acquired in about 1607 by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, whose patronage of artists like Caravaggio and Bernini and accumulation of the spectacular Borghese art collection was responsible for the development of the Baroque style, and who commissioned Apollo in his Chariot preceded by Dawn (Aurora), Reni’s masterpiece ceiling fresco for the Casino dell’Aurora at the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi on the Quirinal Hill in 1614.


Snyders Still Life with Fruits and Vegetables 3556

Still Life with Fruit and Vegetables, Frans Snyders, 1625-35, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Frans Snyders, a master of the Flemish Baroque still life, is renowned for his bold brushwork and monumental compositions. One of the themes of this painting, which likely depicts the larder of a fine house, is that of abundance, particularly as the idea relates to productivity and prosperity. The first impression may be of a chaotic layering of the fruits and vegetables on the table, in a bowl or basket, or on the ground. Closer inspection shows, in a manner apparent to a 17th century viewer, that the produce is arranged in a hierarchy reflecting value and rarity. Root vegetables are picturesquely arranged on the ground, whereas highly prized peas and asparagus are placed in the basket at right.

In this collaboration, Snyders painted the still-life elements, and his brother-in-law, the portrait painter Cornelis de Vos, painted the figures. The interaction of the boy and the woman through touch and gaze and the inclusion of live animals enhances the sense of animation. The painting resonates with allusions to all five senses. Snyders created a sense of dynamism by combining vivid color, dramatic lighting, a rhythmical repetition of line and form, and a plethora of objects piled upon each other.

Frans Snyders was the progenitor of Flemish Baroque still life and animal painting. He worked intensively for about 50 years, producing an enormous body of works, of which more than 300 paintings survive, along with some oil sketches and about 100 drawings. Through his own paintings and his collaboration with Rubens and other artists, his influence was considerable.


Rubens Louis XIII King of France 3515

Portrait of Louis XIII, King of France, Peter Paul Rubens, 1622-25, Flemish, oil on canvas.

Louis XIII, son of Henry IV and his second wife, Marie de' Medici, was born in 1601 and became king at age nine. Although he was declared of age in 1615, stronger men and especially his mother dominated him. He never learned to rule his kingdom effectively. Nevertheless, Rubens has portrayed the young king with all of the attributes of strength. He is dressed in a polished suit of armor and rests his left hand, enclosed in a gauntlet, on the table next to his plumed helmet, while his right hand grasps a marshall's baton. Attached to a ribbon at his right side is the Cross of the Order of the Saint Esprit.

This painting and its companion of Anne of Austria, Queen of France (shown below) were painted during the period in which Rubens was executing one of his first great commissions, a series of paintings for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris known as the Marie de' Medici Cycle. Marie de' Medici, the wife of assassinated King Henry IV, had been Regent of France between 1610 and 1614, but continued to rule France after Louis XIII came of age until he finally exiled her to Blois and took over rule in 1617. She was allowed to return to Paris in 1621 and took over building and decorating the Luxembourg Palace. Rubens directed the Palace decoration, and was commissioned to paint two large series of the life of Marie de' Medici and Henry IV for both wings of the first floor of the Palace, to be completed by the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Marie to Charles I of England in 1624. During this period Rubens was also entrusted with the first of a series of diplomatic missions for the Habsburg rulers of Spain, for which he was raised to the nobility in 1624. He later acted as a diplomat for both Spain and England, moving between the two courts in an attempt to bring peace. He was knighted by Charles I of England in 1630.


Rembrandt Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat 3584 LG

Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, 1633, Dutch, oil on panel.

The man portrayed here is believed to be Pieter Sijen, a merchant who was a member of the Mennonite congregation in Amsterdam. An inscription at the left informs us that he was 41 years of age at the time of this portrait. Rembrandt painted a companion portrait of the man’s wife, Marretje Cornelisdr. van Grotewal, that is now in the collection of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

The sitter as depicted embodies sobriety and modesty, values that were  important to the middle class in Amsterdam. Yet Rembrandt transforms what could be an austere first impression (given the limitations of the formal black attire that was fashionable at the time) into a warm and insightful portrait. The vivid description of the features, the warm, directional light, and the marvelous brushwork impart a sense of animation that earned Rembrandt a position as one of the most sought after portraitists in Holland during the 1630s.

The sculptural effect and tight brushwork are characteristic of Rembrandt's early Amsterdam portraits. Intense light from the upper left creates a dramatic contrast between the two sides of the face and  throws a shadow on the wall at lower right. The light brilliantly illuminates the folds of his white ruff, fashionable clothing in the mid-16th to mid-17th centuries. The deep shadows above and below obscure the details of the hat and clothing, except for areas on the brim of the hat. The slightly turned position of the subject and the volume of the ruff were stylistic conventions used by Rembrandt to create forceful portraits in the 1630s.


Rousseau The Fisherman Early Morning 3429

The Fisherman, Early Morning, Pierre-Étienne-Théodore Rousseau, c. 1865, French, oil on canvas.

Known as Le Grand Refusé due to his exclusion and consequent abstention from the annual Paris Salons of 1836–48, Théodore Rousseau is considered to be instrumental in the establishment of the Barbizon School of French landscape painting. Neither stylistically consistent nor a cohesive band of painters, this group held but one common credo: that humans and nature could coexist without the hierarchy of one establishing itself over the other. Rousseau focused on naturalism and mastered the art of plein air painting, creating his works outdoors rather than in a studio. His style paved the way for Impressionism, notably Claude Monet, whose 1872 work Impression, Sunrise gave rise to the name of the Impressionist movement.

Rousseau’s unique approach, different from fellow landscape painters Corot, Daubigny and Harpignies, took cues from the idealized world of Romantic landscape painting and applied them to the less structured aspects observed while painting outdoors. After many years of his previous works having been rejected from the Paris Salon due to the École des Beaux-Arts’ perception that they were unruly in character and primitive, The Fisherman, Early Morning exhibited to much acclaim at the Salon of 1850–51, and is considered a superb example of the transitional character of Rousseau’s landscapes. The morning sun creates a dramatic silhouette of landscape and fisherman, who appears to be just leaving with his morning catch. Located at the center of the canvas between an untamed area of forest at left and a cultivated pasture with grazing sheep at right, the fisherman assimilates peacefully and naturally into the meticulously executed rural setting.


Manet The Ragpicker HS7456

The Ragpicker, Édouard Manet, c. 1865-1870, French, oil on canvas.

Édouard Manet depicted contemporary social types of Paris throughout his career. From high class courtesans to bourgeois flâneurs to familiar street figures, Manet was intent on presenting the world that he inhabited. The Ragpicker is one such social type, and it would have been familiar to all of his contemporaries. Collecting rags to sell to paper manufacturers, these figures lived life on their own terms, outside of the restrictive expectations of society. They were also highly romanticized at the time, as they stood as an emblem of the charm of a Paris that was disappearing as the city was rebuilt by Napoleon III in the 1860s. Despite this strong contemporary resonance, Manet’s Ragpicker (among four monumental nearly life-sized paintings of people on the margins of society which were created by the artist in the 1860s) was directly inspired by Diego Velázquez’s 17th-century treatment of the same theme (his “Philosopher” series). Having visited the Prado, Manet was enthusiastic over the works by the Spanish master, and he employed a similarly straightforward composition, a somber, monochromatic palette, and a beautifully executed still-life with vibrant brushwork in his own representation of the subject. Manet often turned to his 17th to 18th century predecessors for inspiration, incorporating the art of the past into the artist’s very tangible Parisian present.

Regarding the painting of a single figure, Manet wrote of “... how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this unique figure and still keep it living and real. To paint two figures which get their interest from the duality of the two personalities is child’s play in comparison”.

Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th century artists to paint modern life, and was an important transitional figure between Realism and Impressionism. This was painted about the time when Manet became friends with Monet, but he never participated in the Impressionists exhibitions although he was considered to be their leader, instead continuing to submit works to the Salon.


van Gogh Portrait of a Peasant 1305 LG

Portrait of a Peasant (Patience Escalier), Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Dutch, oil on canvas.

A 1600 x 2000 pixel (1.7 MB) image of one of Vincent van Gogh’s most interesting portraits.
There are two other images on the Paintings page, one smaller clip (like this) and one in frame.

After living in Paris for two years with his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh decided to move to Arles, in the south of France. He went there to escape what he saw as the decadence of urban life in the French capital, to improve upon his health, and to return to a world less cluttered by corruption and selfishness. The move also facilitated his return to the painting of peasants, “an absolute continuation,” according to the artist, of the work he had accomplished in the small parish of Neunen in 1884-85. This portrait is one of several completed in the few years he lived in Arles, and it is one of two of Patience Escalier, an old gardener and former goatherd. Not dark like his earlier peasant portraits, this work instead presents a spectacular range of pulsating, prismatic color. Van Gogh employed the vibrant palette “as a means of arriving at the expression and the intensification of character”; this approach permanently liberated him from the use of color for purely representational reasons.

Patience Escalier was painted in August, 1888, before Paul Gaugin’s visit, in anticipation of which van Gogh painted four of his Sunflowers in Vases. He hoped to establish an artist’s commune in Arles, where his artist comrades from Paris could work together and pursue a common goal. Gaugin would not arrive until October, and the worsening weather forced the artists to remain indoors, where their relationship deteriorated along with Vincent’s mental health. In December, van Gogh mutilated his  left ear, severing the earlobe with a razor. Van Gogh was hospitalized and Gaugin left Arles. They never saw each other again.


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Goddess Tara 3656


Bodhisattva 3674

Goddess Tara, 1275-1325, Nepal or Tibet, gilt-copper alloy with semiprecious stones and pigment.

A savior deity, Tara is the female counterpart of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Tara is an embodiment of feminine grace, compassion and action. In both Nepal and Tibet she has enjoyed great popularity. This impressive sculpture is one of the largest and finest metal images of the goddess known. There are several aspects with different colors (in some schools there are 21 Taras), each aspect with its own characteristics. Tara is a female Buddha in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Bodhisattva, 13th century, Nepal, gilt-copper alloy with semiprecious stones.

Bodhisattvas are Buddhist deities who have attained enlightenment but have postponed Buddhahood in order to aid others in their quest to reach salvation. Bodhisattva imagery was incredibly popular in Nepal, reflecting the importance of Mahayana Buddhism, which encourages its practitioners to emulate and become bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas can be distinguished from the Buddha by their often luxurious garments, opulent jewelry and ornate crowns.


Bodhisattva Manjusri HS7590 LG

Bodhisattva Manjusri, 800-850, India: Kashmir, bronze inlaid with silver and copper.

Manjusri, the bodhisattva of transcendent wisdom, stands confidently with his peacock companion, who looks up adoringly at his master. In this Indian representation, Manjusri is portrayed as a handsome young god whose right hands exhibit the gesture of charity and hold a rosary and three jewels, while his left hands hold a manuscript, a flowering lotus and a fruit. The elaborate tiara with floral crests, the multiple necklaces and the garland reaching nearly to his feet are all typical of Kashmiri sculptures.

In Tibet, Manjusri manifests in a number of Tantric forms, some symbolizing the union of form and spirit, matter and energy and in his wrathful manifestation, Death.

Manjusri, known in China as Wenshu, has been associated with Wutai Shan, one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism in China since the early days, and in the 16th century, Nurhaci, a Ming-era military chieftain in Manchuria and the founder of what became the Chinese imperial Qing Dynasty, reunified Jurchen tribes and named them after Manjusri, calling them the Manchu.

In Esoteric Buddhism, which had only been developing for about 200 years at the time this sculpture was made, Manjusri is a meditational deity considered to be a fully enlightened Buddha. In this Esoteric Buddhist form, Manjusri is depicted as a male bodhisattva wielding a flaming sword in his right hand.


Buddha Vajradhara HS7569


Goddess Parvati HS7531 LG

Primordial Buddha Vajradhara, 15th century, Tibet, bronze.

The primordial Buddha, the Dharmakaya (reality body) of the Trikaya doctrine, embodying ultimate emptiness, the principle of pure enlightenment and the supreme essence of all Buddhas, from which were manifested the Five Wisdom Buddhas, including Amitabha and Vairocana. Vajradhara is literally the “bearer of the thunderbolt”, and is typically adorned with ornaments. This statue can be recognized as Vajradhara by the vajra (thunderbolt or diamond) and ghanta (bell) that he holds at his chest, which symbolize his indestructibility. A delicate halo composed of scrolling vegetation surrounds his serene form.

Vajradhara is the highest deity in the Buddhist pantheon, and in the Tibetan schools (and many others), Vajradhara is the realization of the ultimate state of enlightenment. This is the single form, the first of two forms (the second is locked in an embrace with Saki). Vajradhara sits in meditation, with the bell in his left hand and the vajra in his right, with hands crossed in the Diamond mudra, representing the coexistence of the two aspects of one cosmic world (Diamond and Matrix).

Goddess Parvati, c. 1000, India: Tamil Nadu, bronze.

This image of Parvati is unusual for its voluptuous appearance. The figure’s full breasts, gently swelling abdomen, and powerful thighs are much less stylized than those in other images of the goddess. The artist has modified Parvati’s usual posture in order to accommodate this ample form. Not only is her hip thrust to the side, but she appears to bend forward slightly at the waist, as if engaging the viewer.

Parvati is the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion, and a mother goddess with many attributes and aspects, each with a different name. She is the wife of the Hindu deity Shiva (destroyer, recycler and regenerator of all life in the Universe), daughter of King Parvat (lord of the mountains and the personification of the Himalayas), and mother of elephant-headed Ganesha.


Shiva the Bull Rider and Parvati HS7554

Shiva the Bull-Rider and Parvati, c. 1000, India: Tamil Nadu, bronze.

The majestic Shiva (right) stands in a relaxed posture and would have leaned upon the head of his bull, known as Nandi or Vrisha, which is now missing. The god's recognizable attributes include his elaborate hairstyle, in which his long matted hair is piled up on top of his head to form a crown, his elaborate jewelry, and his armbands. His wife and companion, Parvati, daughter of the Mountain King Parvat, is the embodiment of feminine beauty and grace. When she is with Shiva, her right hand holds a lotus flower (missing here) while her left arm hangs gracefully to the side of her body "like the tail of a cow" (lolahasta mudra).


Shiva with Uma and Skanda HS7548

Shiva with Uma and Skanda, 950-975, India: Tamil Nadu, Shivapuram, bronze.

Legend states that Vishnu, desirous of progeny, worshipped Shiva at Tiruvarur and that Shiva blessed him with a male child Kama. Parvati, who was enraged by the fact that Vishnu had not included her in his worship of Shiva, inflicted a curse upon him that Vishnu's child would be burnt to death by Shiva. Upon realization of the curse, an aggrieved Vishnu created a composite image featuring Shiva, Uma and Skanda (Somaskanda, symbolic of fertility) and offered worship to it. Parvati alleviated the curse placed on him stating that despite being burnt to death, Kama would live on to create the forces of attraction between the male and the female that would ensure the continuation of the human race.

The reason why Saiva poets brought in this concept is that during the 4th to 5th century, part of the Khalabra-ruled dark ages in Tamil Nadu, Jainas and Buddhists were influential and they propagated the idea that celibacy was required to reach Godhead. Saivites thought that this was dangerous to the population and advocated that even householders can attain Shiva's Abode. To point out that even Shiva is a householder, they brought about the concept of Soma-Skanda-Uma. Somaskanda groups were intended to emphasize the importance of the child in family life. The earliest stone versions dated from the Pallava period in the 7th century, but the bronze sculptural groups did not appear until the medieval Chola period of the 9th century.

One of the greatest patrons of tenth century Chola art was Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi. Widowed at a young age, she lived most of her life as a dowager queen. From 941 until her death in 1006, she sponsored the building of numerous stone temples throughout the Cholas’ realm. The bronze workshop that Queen Mahadevi established continued to produce some of the finest iconic images of the Chola period, of which this sculpture is an example. The pattern of the fabric worn by Shiva and Parvati, articulated by bands of circles, triangles and scrolls, is identical to images attributed to Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi’s workshop.


St. Michael and Dragon HS7672

Saint Michael and the Dragon As Virtue Overcoming Vice,
late 13th/early 14th century, School of Reims, French, polychromed wood.

This French Gothic sculpture from the School of Reims derived from the Carolingian art of 780-900 AD and the early Gothic sculpture from the 12th century. The Cathedral School of Reims developed a strong sculptural style after the great fire of 1211, and much of the sculptural work was done between 1255 and 1274, although the upper parts of the facade were completed in the early 14th century following the 13th century designs. From 1274, many of the sculptors dispersed, carrying the style which was developed for the numerous sculptures over the portals and on other parts of the Cathedral with them.

In this sculpture, the Archangel St. Michael smiles as he stands atop the dragon. The dragon looks back up at St. Michael in agony. The sculpture could be considered to signify either the triumph of Christianity over Paganism, or good over evil (the dragon as the “Old Serpent” as the Devil, and St. Michael as the Archangel of Light fighting the Devil as a Dragon of Darkness), or as in the title: Virtue Overcoming Vice.


da Settignano Madonna HS7690 LG
1632 x 2136 (767 KB)

Beauregard Madonna, attributed to Desiderio da Settignano, c. 1455, Italian, 1429-1464, white Carrara marble.

Desiderio de Bartolomeo di Francesco detto Ferro (da Settignano) was, like many of his contemporaries,
known for the village he came from (Settignano), and was typically referred to as Desiderio da Settignano.

Born and trained in Settignano, a village of stonecutters in Tuscany, Desiderio was one of the most talented marble sculptors at work in Florence during the Renaissance. In this sculpture, the Virgin embraces and presents the Christ Child, who stands in contrapposto, clutching his swaddling cloth in both hands, a gesture that conveys both visual and emotional meaning. It adds movement to the composition and it reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice with reference to his burial shroud. Desiderio carved the figures in low relief, paying great attention to the tangible details of texture and weight. The description of the Virgin’s dress and veil, and the soft, pudgy flesh of the Infant, appear to transcend the hardness of the medium.

Desiderio created the Beauregard Madonna in 1455, roughly six years before the Tabernacle of the Sacrament in San Lorenzo. This is called the Beauregard Madonna because that is the name of the first documented owner. In his short life (1430-1464), Desiderio created some truly masterful sculptures. He achieved some important commissions early in life based on his mastery of marble and his sensitivity, and he really had a gift in the representation of children. Note the character of the pudgy skin of the child around the knees and elbow, and the character of the folds of the dress. The textures he created here were exquisite. He invented the sculpted portraiture of children, made popular the low-relief techniques he had learned from Donatello, and had a delicacy of expression and texture unique to his time.

Half-length painted or carved images of the Madonna and Child adorned domestic interiors, especially the private chapels of wealthy and aristocratic families. As objects of devotion and prayer, they were believed to have power as intermediaries to their divine counterparts.


Degas Little Dancer aged 14 HS7391

Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, Edgar Degas, 1878-81, French, copper alloy.

The original wax model of "The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer" was exhibited in the 6th Impressionist Exhibition of April 1881, presenting the Parisian public with an extraordinary new conception of sculpture. Degas dressed the wax figure in a silk bodice, gauze tutu, and fabric slippers, with a satin ribbon in her real hair wig. The wig, slippers, and bodice were covered with a layer of wax to help unite them with the rest of the work, while preserving their special texture. His model, Marie von Goethem, was a student of the Ballet de l'Opera and worked as an artist's model. Accustomed to representations that idealized human forms, the public had mixed reactions to the graphic portrayal of an adolescent dance student, dressed in real clothing. After the exhibition, Degas returned the "Little Dancer" to his apartment, where it remained until his death in 1917.


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Rodin Burghers of Calais X2656

Burghers of Calais, Auguste Rodin, 1889 (cast 1968), French, bronze.

By law, no more than 12 casts can be made of work by Rodin.
This was the 10th cast (the first cast was made in 1895 for Calais).

The Burghers of Calais (Les Monument aux Bourgeois de Calais) is one of the most famous sculptures executed by Auguste Rodin. It was commissioned by the City of Calais in 1885 as a monument of an incident in 1347 during the Hundred Years War. The town council of the port city of Calais wanted to pay tribute to the six Burghers who had risked their lives to save the citizens of Calais after the 11 month siege of King Edward III of England, which had reduced the city to the brink of starvation and thirst.

To save the population Edward required six of the leading citizens to present themselves as hostages in plain garments with nooses around their necks, bearing the keys to the city and citadel. Edward intended to kill the Burghers, but according to the medieval writer Jean Froissart, his pregnant wife Philippa of Hainault intervened, convincing Edward to spare them claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child. Rodin focused on all six Burghers rather than just the leading citizen, Eustache de Saint-Pierre, as had the previous artists and as the city council originally intended. Rodin accorded each of the six Burghers equal status by placing them all at the same height, and faced them in different directions to require the viewer to circumnavigate the sculpture to be able to appreciate his work in its entirety.


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2657


Rodin Burghers of Calais X2660

The Burghers of Calais was Rodin's first completed major public monument. Rodin portrayed the six Burghers at a unique psychological moment, as they are about to leave the city to march to the camp of King Edward III to surrender the keys to the city, and probably their lives. The sculpture group consists of six figures standing on the same level in various positions and facing in different directions. They wear the same plain garments, and have similar physiques, however they exhibit different facial expressions: sorrow, despair, and determination. The figures in front are (left to right): Pierre de Wissant (detail and studies below), Eustache Saint-Pierre, and Jean d’Aire. The figures in back are (left to right): Jeanne de Fiennes (detail and studies below), Jacques de Wissant (with his hand in front of his face) and Andrieu d’Andres (with his head buried in his hands).


Rodin Burghers Pierre de Wissant 7720


Rodin Pierre de Wissant dressed X2652

At left, detail of Pierre de Wissant from the Burghers of Calais shown in the low contrast light of a cloudy day. At right, detail of the head, neck and right arm of the Grand Model for Pierre de Wissant, taken in shadows on a sunny day. Following his older brother Jacques, Pierre de Wissant was the fourth burgher to volunteer and the second youngest. Rodin made a number of studies of the head and body of Pierre de Wissant, both nude and draped, and treated the neck, muscles, hands, drapery and position of the rope differently. With this figure, Rodin explores the highly emotional contemplation of  the idea of his own death by a young man in his prime. Rodin created a  tremendous amount of drama with the head and neck, the facial  expression, and the arm and hand position. The Rodin page shows several comparison views of the nude and dressed bronze studies.


Rodin Pierre de Wissant nude 3366


Rodin Pierre de Wissant nude 7772

Pierre de Wissant, Nude, Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. II

Rodin created a number of models for each figure, including several studies of the full figures both nude and dressed as well as the separate hands, heads, busts, etc. The 1885 nude study had an entirely different face and hair treatment, and although the right arm was raised in a similar position, both hands had the fingers curled touching the thumb. This nude study was done after the figure had been refined to nearly its final state, but Rodin was still experimenting with the length of the neck, the character of the straining tendons of the neck, the head position and the position of the right hand and wrist.


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 7733


Rodin Jean de Fiennes 3862

Jean de Fiennes, Vetu (dressed), Auguste Rodin, 1884-95, French, bronze, Edition of IV, Cast No. I

There are over a  hundred surviving three-dimensional studies which Rodin created for the  Burghers of Calais, including hands, feet, heads, headless figures,  facial masks, and complete figures, both nude and dressed as well as the two maquettes. The bodies of the six Burghers were created separately  from the heads, and he created the individual clay working models at  high speed while watching a group of nude models "selected for their  strength of character and a maturity hardened by arduous physical labor  or combat". He then created the full-size studies nude before draping  the figures. This is the Grand Model study.

Jean de Fiennes was the youngest of the Burghers, and Rodin modeled his figure with arms outspread and mouth open, as if he were questioning his decision to sacrifice himself for the safety of the people of Calais. Jean de Fiennes went through the most changes from the first to the second maquettes and to the Grand Model. The shape of the head, the face and facial expression, the position of the head, body, arms and legs, hands and feet all changed through several studies to the second maquette, when the general position and stance were defined but everything else was still to be refined. The final Grand Model had long wavy hair, lighter drapery with vertical folds revealing the feet, and an expression with lips parted and brow furrowed, that along with the position of the hands gives the figure a doubting disposition as he looks back at Calais, which he may never see again.


Rodin Monument to Balzac 7738


Rodin Monument to Balzac HS7378

Monument to Balzac, Auguste Rodin, 1897, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 8

The most controversial of Rodin’s sculptures, which caused a public scandal that literally divided France.

Given the power and brutality of the human form in Auguste Rodin’s Monument to Balzac, it is no surprise to find that the work was universally rejected by all but the most progressive viewers upon its first exhibition in 1898. The sculpture is an expressive, potent portrait of the embattled writer, and it took Rodin seven years of meticulous study to complete. Its action, its plays with light, and its spectacular vitality, all cornerstones of Rodin’s technique, broke entirely with the sculptural traditions of the past and nearly singlehandedly brought the medium into the twentieth century. Rodin himself said that the work was beyond compare, claiming that it was “the sum of my whole life, the result of a lifetime of effort, the mainspring of my aesthetic theory. From the day of its conception, I was a changed man.”

Honoré de Balzac, the vastly influential French author of the 90 series of novels The Human Comedy, died in 1850, but it was not until 1891 that Rodin was commissioned to sculpt the monument. Rodin immersed himself in the study of Balzac, reading his works, studying photographs and lithographs, sculptures, paintings and drawings of the author, and even tracked down his tailor and had a pair of pants and a waistcoat made to Balzac's measurements. Rodin created over 50 studies simultaneously, most of them being heads, with some headless bodies, and a number of complete figures in various dressed and undressed states. His Balzac in Dominican Robe created the fundamental version of the clothing Rodin would use for the final figure. The Final Study joined the Naked Balzac (with altered arm positions) with the Monumental Head and a drastic reworking of the monk's garb of Balzac in Dominican Robe, with smoother drapery and hanging sleeves leading up to the massive head.

Rodin's vision was to "represent Balzac in his study, breathless, hair in disorder, eyes lost in a dream...", and he worked constantly to render the drapery. Balzac always wore an ample robe of white cashmere lined with white silk at home, cut like a monk's habit and tied with a belt of knotted silk. When the final sculpture was unveiled, many of Rodin's detractors from the lengthy public scandal surrounding the sculpture (see the Rodin page) labeled the statue a seal, a sack of potatoes, or a pig. The Monument to Balzac was rejected by the Société des Gens de Lettres de France, and Rodin withdrew from the controversy with dignity, refusing to sell the statue and wanting to keep it for himself. He took the statue to Meudon and placed it in an open meadow. The first bronze cast was erected in Paris in 1939, 22 years after Rodin's death.


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The Thinker, Auguste Rodin, 1880 and 1902, French, bronze, Edition of 12, Cast No. 11

When conceived in 1880 in its original size (approximately 28 inches) as the crowning element of The Gates of Hell , seated on the tympanum, The Thinker was entitled The Poet. He represented Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy which had inspired The Gates of Hell, leaning forward to observe the circles of Hell while meditating on his work. The pose of this figure is based on Carpeaux’s Ugolino and the seated portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici carved by Michelangelo.

While remaining in place on the monumental Gates of Hell, The Thinker was exhibited individually in 1888 and thus became an independent work. Enlarged in 1902, its monumental version proved even more popular and has become one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. Numerous casts exist worldwide, cast in multiple versions at different sizes.


Rodin The Thinker 3838


Rodin The Thinker 7748

The Thinker originally overlooked the center of the Gates of Hell and was 70 cm tall (~28 in.).
Seated below the Three Shades at the base of the pediment over the Gates, The Thinker drew
a lot of attention, and like many other figures for the Gates, it became an independent sculpture.

Designed to be seen from below, The Thinker is displayed on a fairly tall plinth. Rodin's original
28 inch model was traced using an enlarging and reduction mechanism called the colas machine
developed by his assistant Henri Lebosse. Using the process developed by Lebosse, the original
model was "traced" onto another block of clay, and in the process, enlarged to monumental size.
After its first exhibition, a public petition was circulated to have the colossal sculpture purchased
for donation to the people of France. It was cast and placed outside of the Pantheon in Paris.

The Thinker is the 11th casting of Rodin’s monumental solo sculpture derived from The Poet, a representation of Dante Alighieri overlooking the Gates of Hell according to the Rodin Museum. The inspiration was Dante’s 1321 poem The Divine Comedy. The original sculpture was first named The Thinker by foundry workers who noted its similarity to the Michelangelo sculpture of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Penseroso (The Thinker), and Rodin decided to treat the sculpture as an independent work at a larger size (73 inches). He would cast and patinate five monumental versions before he died. 25 monumental bronze casts exist, as well as a number of plaster and study-size castings. At least seven or eight  were cast from the original set of enlargements which Rodin had begun before his death. This was the eleventh casting, done from an original enlargement.


Click the Display Composite above to visit the Norton Simon Museum Rodin Bronzes page.