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Rodin – Rilke – Hofmannsthal. Man and His Genius

Exhibition: Rodin – Rilke – Hofmannsthal.  Man and His Genius

Date: Nov 17, 2017 − Mar 18, 2018

Venue: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Balzac, Nude Study C, 1892-1893. Bronze, 127 x 56 x 62.2 cm.
Musée Rodin, Paris.

“Writers work with words, sculptors with actions.“
— POMPONIUS GAURICUS: DE SCULPTURA (circa 1504)

“The hero is he who is immovably centered.”
— RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Rodin was solitary before he was famous. And fame, when it arrived, made him perhaps even more solitary. For in the end, fame is no more than the sum of all the misunderstandings that gather around a new name. There are many of these around Rodin, and clarifying them would be a long, arduous, and ultimately unnecessary task. They surround the name, but not the work, which far exceeds the resonance of the name, and which has become nameless, as a great plain is nameless, or a sea, which may bear a name in maps, in books, and among people, but which is in reality just vastness, movement, and depth.

The Gates of Hell (detail), 1880-1917. Bronze. Musée Rodin , Paris.

The work of which we speak here has been growing for years. It grows every day like a forest, never losing an hour. Passing among its countless mani festations, we are overcome by the richness of discovery and invention, and we can’t help but marvel at the pair of hands from which this world has grown. We remember how small human hands are, how quickly they tire and how little time is given to them to create. We long to see these hands, which have lived the lives of hundreds of hands, of a nation of hands that rose before dawn to brave the long path of this work. We wonder whose hands these are. Who is this man?

The Burghers of Calais, 1889. Plaster, 217 x 255 x 177 cm. Musée Rodin , Paris.

His life is one of those that resists being made into a story. This life began and proceeded, passing deep into a venerable age; it almost seems to us as if this life had passed hundreds of years ago. We know nothing of it. There must have been some kind of childhood, a childhood in poverty; dark, searching, uncertain. And perhaps this childhood still belongs to this life. After all, as Saint Augustine once said, “where can it have gone? It may yet have all its past hours, the hours of anticipation and of desolation, the hours of despair and the long hours of need.”

This is a life that has lost nothing, that has forgotten nothing, a life that amasses even as it passes. Perhaps. In truth we know nothing of this life. We feel certain, however, that it must be so, for only a life like this could produce such richness and abundance.

Burgher of Calais: Andrieus d’Andres, figure from the second model, 1885.
Bronze, 61.5 x 22 x 46 cm. Musée Rodin , Paris.

Only a life in which everything is present and alive, in which nothing is lost to the past, can remain young and strong, and rise again and again to create great works. The time may come when this life will have a story, a narrative with burdens, epi sodes, and details. They will all be invented. Someone will tell of a child who often forgot to eat because it seemed more important to carve things in wood with a dull knife. They will find some encounter in the boy’s early days that seemed to promise future greatness, one of those retrospective prophecies that are so common and touching. It may well be the words a monk is said to have spoken to the young Michel Colombe almost five hundred years ago:

“Work, little one, look all you can, the steeple of Saint Pol, and the beautiful works ofthe Compagnons, look, love God and you will be grace of grand things.”

Head of Pierre de Wissant, c. 1885-1886 (?). Terracotta, 28.6 x 20 x 22 cm.
Musée Rodin, Paris.

And the grace of great things shall be given to you. Perhaps intuition spoke to the young man at one of the crossroads in his early days, and in infinitely more melodious tones than would have come from the mouth of a monk. For it was just this that he was after: the grace of great things. There was the Louvre with its many luminous objects of antiquity, evoking southerly skies and the near ness of the sea. And behind it rose heavy things of stone, traces of inconceiv able cultures enduring into epochs still to come. This stone was asleep, and one had the sense that it would awake at a kind of Last Judgment.

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