Rodin Works: The Caryatid, A damned Woman, Destiny, SoRrow


Caryatid in the upper left corner of the 'Gates of Hell', Musée d'Orsay; Photo Prof. Howe'The Caryatid Carrying a Stone' was created probably as early as 1881. In 1886, it was exhibited as a work in its own right in the Gallery Georges Petit. According to Antoinette Le Norman-Romain, it was only included in 'The Gates of Hell' arround 1889-90, on top of the left hand pilasterThe Caryatide carrying a stone.

The word "Caryatid" originally referred to "women from Carie" (a region around the ancient cities Halicarnassis and Cnide) who were taken as captives by the Greek because they had supported the Persians. Subsequently, these characters found their way into Greek architecture, as standing female figures, carrying the temple's roof or balcony - like in the famous Erechtheion on the Acropolis. 
In Brussels, Rodin recurred to this classical tradition while creating three caryatids for a building at the Boulevard Anspach he was requested to decorate. While these versions have a definite male appearance and erect attitude, 'The Fallen Caryatid' Rodin created ten years later was a smooth and feminine figure, collapsing under the burden of her huge stone. Probably, Rodin was familiar with the contorted poses of the Caryatids created by Alfred Stevens in London. In 1902, Rainer Maria Rilke described the sculpture as follows: 

"It bears, as in a dream one bears the impossible and finds no deliverance."

[Rainer Maria Rilke, Rodin, translation Robert Firmage, Salt Lake City, 1982, p. 48]

In this sense, Rodin's interpretation of the subject fits into the scenery of desperate sinners populating 'The Gates of Hell'. From a merely decorative, architectural element, Rodin has transformed his 'Fallen Caryatid' into a personification of destiny, breathing fatalism and pessimism. As Jaques de Caso notes, 'The Fallen Caryatid' does represent the female counterpart of Sisyphus, whose eternal duty it was to roll a rock up a hill in vain.

De Caso/Sanders and Mary Levkoff hint to Canto X of the Divina Commedia, in which Dante is unable to recognize certain figures in the Inferno, so that his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, has to explain to him that these are the  prideful, bent under the burden of stones they are bearing, so that they seem "shapeless":Fallen Caryatid with Urn, bronze, LACMA

"So curb'd to earth, beneath their heavy terms
Of torment stoop they, that mine eye at first
Struggled as thine. But look intently...
And disentangle with thy labouring view,
What, underneath those stones; approacheth...
As to support incumbent floor or roof,
For corbel, is a figure sometimes seen,
That crumples up its knees unto its breast;
With the feign'd posture, stirring with unfeign'd...
Each, as his back was laden, came indeed
Or more or less contracted."

Cariatide à la sphère, Musée Dr. Fauré, 1881-83, terra-cottaTruman Bartlett, however, has pointed to a poem by Charles Baudelaire as the literary inspiration for the work:

"One idea inspired by the French poet is represented by the figure of 'Sorrow', a young girl pressed down by the weight upon her shoulder, and as difficult to represent by any proces as the siren group. Nor does any single view tell ist whole story, for each profile gives a new and unexpected grace."

Surpassing the limitations of a single, frontal view, 'The Caryatid' marks Rodin's emancipation from Michelangelo.

It was Rodin's favourite model, the vigorous Adele Abruzzezzi, who posed for this female nude. The slender figure, pressed down by the weight on her shoulder, still appearing supple and elastic , in it's entirety has a compact form. Whereas the stone shows richness of detail, the face and body have a smooth and generalized appearance. On the left thigh, we find conventional drapery; the torso so seems to emerge from inarticulate material - still much in the style of the Italian Master.

Crouching Woman with Stone, Photo: Bulloz, Source: LampertLike many sculptures featured in 'The Gates of Hell', 'The Caryatid' succeeded as an independent work as well, and was exectuted in different versions and materials. In 'The Caryatid with an Urn', created on request of a collector in 1883, the stone is substituted by an urn which - as a container of the ashes left from mortal man - also is often associated with Death. Another interpretation of the urn might be provided by the poem of Charles Baudelaire on les femmes damnées:

You that in your hell my soul pursues,
For your dejected sorrows, your thirsts unslakeable,
Poor sisters, I love as much as I pity you,
For the urns of love with which your large hearts are full!

A third, rare version of 'The Caryatid' is carrying a sphere. 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: A photo by Bulloz demonstrated how closely 'The Caryatid' is actually related to 'The Crouching Woman': it shows the latter combined with 'The Caryatid's' stone. Another hybrid version named 'The Caryatid' is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: the 'Crouching Woman' is seated now, resting against a piece of rock (marble, ca. 1900?).

It seems Rodin also had a monumental version of 'The Caryatid' planned, since at his death in 1917, an enlargement of the first two variants was still on the Collas machine of his collaborator Henri LeBossé. The Joconde database mentions two plaster versions 136 resp. 134 cm high (S 5858 and S 185). 

Rodin's sculpture 'Fallen Angel' is a combination of 'The Caryatid's' figure with the female body from 'Eternal Springtime', which in turn features the 'Torso of Adèle'.


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