Monday 4: The Age of Bronze (cast)
What we have here is a masterclass in sculpture. We see a male figure standing at 5 ft 9” (180.3cm) tall. He is resting his right hand on his head while the other hand is gently clenched. His bent arm beautifully accentuates his biceps. He has a strong yet slender physique. He is in the pose created during the classical period known as the contrapposto pose when one leg is slightly bent. This makes the figure more dynamic and naturalistic. In fact when the sculpture was first exhibited, in 1877 in Brussels followed by an exhibition at the Paris Salon later in the year, critics were so shocked by its realism that they believed Rodin to be a fraud. They accused him of making an actual plaster cast of his model, a local 22 year old Belgian soldier called Auguste Neyt. To prove his innocence he asked the italian photographer Gaudenzio Marconi to capture the model and the sculpture in matching positions.
The controversy surrounding this sculpture worked in Rodin’s favour as it enticed more people to go and inspect the sculpture for themselves. The original plaster cast is said to no longer exist but multiple copies have been cast in bronze. This is one of them. Bronze has long been a popular medium for sculpture thanks to its durability and tensile strength which means that it can hold its own weight without the risk of breaking. There are many different colour variations of Bronze depending on how much tin or other metals are mixed into the alloy. The example here is a shiny black bronze however other examples of this work, found around the world, have a different hue.
The V & A has many casts of famous sculptures from France and Italy including that of Michelangelo’s David. Rodin traveled to Italy in 1875 where he was inspired by the works of this great artist and sculptor. In a letter to the french sculptor Emile-Antoine Bourdelle he describes how ‘Michelangelo freed [him] from academism.’ This comment perhaps refers to his three rejections from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the official art school of France in saying that he doesn’t need the school in order to create great art. His prestige encouraged attention across the board from the state to other artists such as Gwen John whom I spoke about during my Tate Britain month. Despite his humble beginnings and exclusion from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, his reputation grew and by 1900 was known as ‘the greatest living sculptor.’ And further too, his influence on modern art has continued to grow and is thought of as immeasurable.