Auguste Rodin: 10 Breathtaking Sculptures You Should Know

French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s mastery of human anatomy, unconventional working methods, and creation of emotionally complex pieces marked him as the founder of modern sculpture.

Jun 13, 2023By Elizabeth Berry, BA English, Italian, & Writing Seminars

auguste rodin breathtaking sculptures


Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is considered to be the founder of modern sculpture. Drawing inspiration from Michelangelo, Rodin created breathtaking sculptures throughout his lifetime that turned traditional elements into something new. Though he sometimes used established methods in his approach to his artwork, he also departed from the academically standard art styles of the time in favor of something more unconventional. His ability to show twisting, turbulent animation in human anatomy set him apart from his contemporaries and led him to create pieces that are still impactful in the modern era. From The Thinker to The Burghers of Calais, to The Gates of Hell, discover ten of Rodin’s most remarkable sculptures!


1. The Thinker: Auguste Rodin’s Iconic Male Nude

auguste rodin thinker sculpture
The Thinker by August Rodin, 1904-1917 (original model 1880), via Baltimore Museum of Art


The most famous sculpture made by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is called The Thinker (1880). This iconic male nude depicts a sitting figure of heroic size deep in thought with his elbow resting on his knee and chin on his hand. This figure resonates with many people today. Rodin himself identified deeply with it too. The work was part of a larger commission titled The Gates of Hell. Originally titled The Poet, the work led some to believe Rodin was depicting Dante Alighieri, the author of The Divine Comedy. Others believe, based on the figure’s nudity and Rodin’s own words, that this sculpture is a self-portrait of sorts.


Over the years, The Thinker has been used as a symbol of philosophy. The piece depicts thinking as a strenuous, noble exercise, one that is requiring deep concentration and effort from the thinker. Today there are 28 casts of this beautiful work. Eleven were made by Rodin during his lifetime while seventeen were cast posthumously.


2. The Kiss: An Embracing Couple Cast in Marble

auguste rodin kiss sculpture
The Kiss by Auguste Rodin, 1900 (original model 1882), via Tate, London


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Another one of Rodin’s most captivating sculptures is his 1882 piece called The Kiss showing an embracing couple cast in marble. Following the long-standing tradition of sculpting marble, Rodin created three copies of this work in his lifetime. Like The Thinker (1880), The Kiss was originally supposed to be part of a larger piece based on Dante’s Inferno, called The Gates of Hell. The couple in this sculpture was modeled after Paolo and Francesca, two sinful lovers from The Divine Comedy. Rodin’s attention to anatomical detail and depiction of emotion in this sculpture are particularly striking, leading it to be popular with the public over the years. Rodin himself felt this sculpture was too traditional, describing the couple’s embrace as formulaic.


3. Hand of God: Inspiration from Michelangelo

auguste rodin hand god sculpture
Hand of God by Auguste Rodin, ca.1907 (original model 1895), via the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


When looking at the sculptures Rodin created in his lifetime, Hand of God (1895) is certainly an interesting one. This piece is an example of Rodin’s more traditional influence from Michelangelo as well as his tight grasp on one of the most difficult aspects of human anatomy to capture: the hand. Rodin took a trip to Italy in 1875 where Michelangelo’s art and sculpture would change the trajectory of his artistic career. From that point forward, he worked not just to copy, but to re-imagine and re-treat elements of Michelangelo’s sculpture within the contemporary artistic landscape. Hand of God is one of his most successful sculptures to communicate this influence by conveying deep emotion through the precise depiction of anatomy. Though Rodin often eschewed the artistic standards of his academic contemporaries, his influence from Michelangelo allowed his art to be tied to the larger fabric of the history of sculpture.


4. Vase of the Titans: Twisting, Michelangelesque Figures 

august rodin carrier belleuse vase titans
Vase of the Titans by Auguste Rodin and Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, cast 1890 (original model 1878-80), via Rodin Museum, Paris


Vase of the Titans (1878-80) is a significant work of Rodin’s because, although it was originally credited to Rodin’s employer Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, experts have identified it as being distinctly Rodin’s work. Following his 1875 trip to Italy, Rodin’s work became increasingly michelangelesque. He sculpted these figures with twisting muscles, which Carrier-Belleuse then incorporated into a decorative vase. Though Rodin was not as developed in his re-interpretation of Michelangelo’s work as he was when he created Hand of God (1895), this artwork is another representation of the artistic training and schooling which led to the founding of modern sculpture.


5. The Age of Bronze: Rodin’s Controversial Male Nude

auguste rodin age bronze sculpture
The Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin, cast by Alexis Rudier before 1941 (original model 1877), via Musée Rodin, Paris


Another impressive example of Rodin’s earlier work is The Age of Bronze (1877), a sculpture that caused a scandal among his contemporaries. He created the piece in Brussels, modeled after a young Belgian soldier, and exhibited it there in 1877, before bringing it to the Salon in Paris. The sculpture drew some controversy as people did not believe Rodin could’ve created such a lifelike statue, leading some to accuse him of using a life cast of his sitter rather than innocently modeling the work. Rodin was eventually able to prove that there was no deceit involved in his artistic process, marking this work as a defining moment for his mastery of anatomical depiction.


6. The Cathedral: The Meaningful Power of Anatomy in Sculpture

auguste rodin cathedral sculpture
The Cathedral by Auguste Rodin, cast 1925 (original model 1908), via Philadelphia Museum of Art


The Cathedral (1908) by Rodin was originally titled The Arch of Alliance, after the rib vaults present in Gothic churches. With the original carved in stone and subsequent casts made of bronze, the sculpture depicts two right hands in an arched, almost-embrace. After Rodin published a book on French Gothic cathedrals in 1914, the artist renamed the piece The Cathedral to make his inspiration clearer. This sculpture is yet another example of the powerful way Rodin depicted anatomy in his work.


7. The Burghers of Calais: Commemorating the Hundred Years’ War

auguste rodin burghers calais sculpture
The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, 1985 by Coubertin Foundry (original model 1884-95), via the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Auguste Rodin modeled The Burghers of Calais following the 1884 commission by the municipal corporation of the City of Calais, France. The city wanted to commemorate an event from the beginning of the Hundred Years’ War in which six leading citizens of the City of Calais, also called burghers, offered their lives to England’s King Edward III in exchange for sparing their city. While the city originally wanted a statue depicting the main burgher, Eustache de Saint Pierre, Rodin’s controversial proposal included all six men. The Burghers of Calais has become a long-respected statue in the city, revered for its incredible depiction of the men’s courage and fear in the face of death.


8. Monument to Balzac: Depicting the Great French Novelist

auguste rodin monument balzac sculpture
Monument to Balzac by Auguste Rodin, cast 1935 by Alexis Rudier (original model 1897), via Musée Rodin, Paris


Another of Rodin’s depictions of a historical persona is the 1897 Monument to Balzac, commissioned by the prestigious writing association Société des Gens de Letters. The piece portrays the great French writer Honoré de Balzac, who wrote the multi-volume novel sequence La Comédie humaine.  Again, the unveiling of this sculpture garnered controversy as he did not depict the author with the usual traits the public associated with him, like glasses, a pen, or a book. Instead, Rodin sought to resemble the writer’s persona with little regard for his physical features, resulting in a dynamic and mysterious sculpture. The writing association canceled the commission and Rodin never got to see his piece cast in Bronze, but Monument to Balzac remains one of his most notable sculptures to this day.


9. Saint John the Baptist Preaching: A Figure in Motion 

auguste rodin st john baptist preaching sculpture
Saint John the Baptist Preaching by Auguste Rodin, bronze, cast 1925 (original model 1878-1880), via Rodin Museum, Paris


An interesting piece from Rodin’s early catalog is Saint John the Baptist Preaching (1878-1880). Rodin began to model this sculpture after the controversy of The Age of Bronze. He designed Saint John the Baptist as a larger-than-life figure and eventually showed the piece at the salon of 1880. While this piece isn’t as well known today as The Age of Bronze, it was also highly contentious when first unveiled due to its crude, naked depiction of a biblical figure. Rodin was inspired to create this work after meeting a gruff Italian peasant, saying “I thought immediately of a St. John the Baptist; that is, a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a forerunner come to announce one greater than himself.” This sculpture is an example of Rodin’s early established artistic philosophy and depiction of historical and biblical figures, threads that continue throughout his later work.


10. The Gates of Hell: Auguste Rodin’s Masterpiece

auguste rodin gates hell sculpture
The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, cast by Alexis Rudier in 1926-28 (original model 1880-1917), via Philadelphia Museum of Art


The Gates of Hell (1880-1917) is one of the most important works of Auguste Rodin’s career. It is a masterpiece based on Dante’s Inferno. Consisting of a large set of bronze doors commissioned by a museum in Paris, Rodin worked on The Gates of Hell over a period of 37 years. Though he originally intended the piece to depict all the figures in the Divine Comedy, he soon adopted a more abstract approach, adding and removing over 200 figures from the piece during his lifetime. Many of Rodin’s most notable works were originally designed as parts of this commission and later enlarged and turned into standalone sculptures, including The Thinker and The Kiss. This way, Rodin’s most iconic work The Gates of Hell is connected to a career full of incredible art.

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By Elizabeth BerryBA English, Italian, & Writing SeminarsElizabeth Berry is a writer from Los Angeles, California. She holds a BA in English, Italian, and Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University, and is working towards her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. In her spare time, she writes articles about Italian art, culture, and literature. She loves golden retrievers, the color fuchsia, and kayaking.