The Vanquished, The Bronze Age
Date of Creation:
When the war broke out in 1870 Auguste Rodin was temporarily drafted into the army at the age of 30. Fortunately for the artist he was discharged shortly afterwards when his shortsightedness proved to be problematic. The effects of being drafted stayed with him and inspired his first full-size sculpture, The Age of Bronze. For this sculpture Rodin used a Belgium solider by the name of Auguste Neyt as his model, a man who would have had the experience fighting which Rodin wanted to reflect in this sculpture.
Although The Age of Bronze originally had political meaning Rodin decided to change the title in order to try and distance the piece from the negative criticism it had received while being exhibited in Belgium, and also to remove any doubt that the work was a criticism of the French Government's decision to go to war in the first place. Yet, The Age of Bronze is a much more ambiguous title and one that reflects the classical style of the piece rather than its original meaning.
The work of the 16th century Renaissance artist Michelangelo was especially important in the development of Rodin's sculpture. The Age of Bronze echoes Dying Slave which was produced between 1513 and 1516 and Rodin would have seen this work by Michelangelo in Paris where it is still displayed in the Louvre.
The posture of both figures is extremely similar with one hand raised and touching the head. The realistic yet muscular bodies of both figures echoes the sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome without the over-exaggeration and drama of many of those works.
Both artists have captured the character and pain of their subjects with great accuracy. While The Age of Bronze captures a type of 'spiritual ecstasy', Dying Slave depicts pain and final acceptance of death.
The Sculpture of Ancient Rome and Greece:
During his 1875 trip to Italy Rodin drew a great deal of inspiration from the classical Roman sculptures which were in abundance throughout the country.
The original title for this piece, The Vanquished, reveals some of the motives behind its creation. Rodin was drafted into the French army at the start of the Franco-Prussian War and although he was dismissed shortly after, the experience and the well-publicized loss of many French soldiers in the conflict had a profound affect on him. The Vanquished was later changed to The Age of Bronze which Rodin hoped would distance the piece from the criticism it received upon its first exhibition.
Similar to many classical sculptures of young men leaning on a staff, The Age of Bronze has a sense of movement which was unprecedented in sculpture of the time. The raised arm to the head gives a sense of heroism to the piece.
Mood, Tone and Emotion:
Rodin captures a great deal of emotion in the face of the model and he depicts a type of spiritual and emotional ecstasy.
Movement and Energy:
By removing the original staff in the right hand of the figure Rodin created a movement which is central to the piece. The bend in the right knee also adds to this feeling and gives the figure an energy which other artist's may not have thought of.
Rodin used models for all his works and in this instance the artist chose a Belgian Soldier named Auguste Neyt. Instead of using professional models, Rodin noted that he liked to choose people by their character and chose models that struck him as embodying a particular feeling or characteristic.
St. John the Baptist Preaching
Accusations that Rodin had not carved his early life-sized work led the artist to create larger than life human forms in his future offerings.
Initial Reception during the Artist's Life:
When The Age of Bronze was first exhibited in Brussels in 1877, under the title The Vanquished, it received a great deal of negative press. Critics accused Rodin of creating the piece by taking a cast of a model, instead of carving it by hand. Such an accusation was serious as this was unacceptable in the art world at this time. Such criticism could be accredited to the realism of this piece and Rodin's skill at rendering a convincing human physique. Friends of the artist came to his defense and Rodin himself out rightly denied the claims.
The Age of Bronze was later exhibited in Paris with Rodin's next sculpture, St. John the Baptist Preaching. In order to escape any future criticism of his work the artist produced St. John on a smaller scale so that there was no question about this work being cast straight from a model.
Although this condemnation did some damage to Rodin's reputation early in his career it did give his work a great deal of publicity, as members of the public wanted to see The Age of Bronze for themselves.
Upon his death in 1917 Auguste Rodin was at the height of his popularity and fame. Several casts of Rodin's The Age of Bronze have been created and can today be found in museums and art galleries around the world.
After Rodin's death his work wavered in popularity but his legacy of innovation is considered by many to be the birth of modern sculpture.
Although the original Director of the Beaux-Arts was not impressed by The Age of Bronze, his replacement, Edmond Turquet was persuaded to order the first bronze production. Exhibited in the 1880 Salon in Paris, this sculpture is now on display at the Musée d'Orsay.
Later casts of The Age of Bronze can be found in several museums around the world.
In 1877 Rodin wrote to his long-term partner Rose in Paris, expressing his disappointment at the reaction to The Age of Bronze: "As you can imagine, I am extremely upset being so near to my goal! My figure was considered to be so fine by everyone, and now they insist on saying it was modeled from life (... ). I am demoralized, I am exhausted, I am short of money, I must look for a studio ... ".
The Age of Bronze stood out from other sculptures at the Paris Salon of 1877 due to the movement that it encapsulated and the innovative pose that Rodin used. Unlike many of the academically-trained artist who were Rodin's contemporaries at the time, the lack of training that Rodin received actually helped his work become successful as it stood out from the classical forms of sculpture created by others.
The realism of The Age of Bronze encapsulates Rodin's early work and is part of the reason why he is referred to as an Impressionist artist.
Below are some recommended works providing further information about Rodin and The Age of Bronze.
• Ruth Butler, Rodin: The Shape of Genius (1993)
• Robert Descharmes and Jean François Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, trans. by E. Lausanne (1967)
• Frederic V. Grunfeld, Rodin: A Biography (1987)
• William H. Hale, The World of Rodin (1969)
• John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, rev. ed. (1976; repr. 1989)
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