Rodin Works: Saint John the Baptist Preaching
In 1877, Rodin began with first studies on a monumental sculpture of 'St.
John the Baptist Preaching'. Responding to the critics who had accused him
to have used casts after life for 'The
Age of Bronze' he modeled his figure larger than life-size.
"Now, the illusion of life is obtained in our art by
good modelling and by movement.(..)
Rodin certainly was familiar with historical examples of statues of St.
John, like 'St. John the Baptist' by Giovanni Francesco Rustici
(Baptistery of Florence). Although the poses are very similar, Rodin shows his Baptist without
the traditional attributes of St. John - the sheepskin-coat and the cross.
His striding saint is nude, unidealized and crudely modeled. As could be
expected, the work met severe critique; most recipients found it improper,
even ugly and shocking.
"The exaggeration of certain anatomical parts, like the bulging muscles of back and arms and the ribs pushing through the chest, anticipate sculptures like The Thinker. However, a difference in proportions is apparent, for the St. John is slight and bony. The contrast between muscularity and wiry build suggests the ascetic habits of the desert dweller and the strength of his convictions. With his unusual figure type and with the unique method for representing movement, Rodin was able to create a sculpture with a forceful presence unlike anything his contemporaries had ever seen."
Like for 'The Age of Bronze', it was again the personality of the model that inspired Rodin for 'The Baptist'. He once told Dujardin-Beaumetz:
"One morning, someone knocked at the studio door. In came an Italian, with one of his compatriots who had already posed for me. He was a peasant from Abruzzi, arrived the night before from his birthplace, and he had come to me to offer himself as a model. Seeing him, I was seized with admiration: that rough, hairy man, expressing in his bearing and physical strength all the violence, but also all the mystical character of his race. 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."
There has been some controversy if it had been César Pignatelli or rather his countryman Danielli who posed for the work. Georges Grappe claimed that Danielli had been the model at least for the head, hereby contradicting a statement by Truman Bartlett. A photo showing Rodin's model Pugnatelli in the pose of 'The Baptist' seems to prove the latter has posed at least for the body ; as for the head, even Grappe had to admit there is only little resemblance between the 'Bust of Danielli' and the face of 'St John'.
The sculpture 'The Walking Man' is a version of 'St. John' without head and arms, focused on the illustration of movement. During Rodin's lifetime, 'The Walking Man' was considered to be a preliminary study for the complete 'Baptist', and mentioned in exhibition catalogues as such. Judith Cladel, however, later recalled that Rodin created the 'Walking Man' only after 1900, employing fragments from previous versions, deliberately producing a partial figure.
Albert Elsen and Henry Moore even suggested 'The Walking Man' was made on purpose to look like an antiquarian sculpture rooted in Roman and Greek art, without referral to the live model. Even if Elsen and Moore were wrong, I determined a striking resemblance to the sculpture 'Headless Hercules', which was placed in the garden of Rodin's villa in Meudon ('Headless Hercules', Roman copy after a 4th c. BC Greek original marble, 183 x 103 x 55 cm, MuRo Co.1107). Even the different ways the arms have been broken off - leaving a stump at the dexter side, while at the sinister side, the complete shoulder has been truncated - is nearly identical in both cases. Rodin considered this antique torso as the "jewel" of his collection, and once commented:
"This Hercules, so proudly arched, stands there in the most unaffected manner. He has been seized at a moment when nobody is looking at him. Every single muscle is vibrating with the desire to exercise, but no part of his being displays itself for admiration. It is in this way too that antique art stands out so sharply from academic art which claims, illegitimately, to be its descendant."
The headless 'st John' was exhibited for the first time in Rodin's Pavillon at the Place d'Alma on a high column in 1900. In 1905, the sculpture was enlarged to over-life size, the right shoulder being bent slightly forward to amplify the suggestion of movement; only from that time on, it became known as 'The Walking Man'. The enlarged bronze version was exhibited for the first time in Strasbourg in 1907, and in the Paris Salon. One bronze cast was donated by admirers to be placed at the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Rodin, eager to see his sculpture combined with the architecture created by Michelangelo, travelled to Italy in January 1912 together with the Duchesse de Choiseul and inspected the future site. After the installation, the cast only stayed there till 1923 and was then returned to Lyon, France, because it displeased the French Ambassor in Rome. By now, there are several monumental casts in Museums worldwide.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (supplied by The
National Gallery of Art, Washington):
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