Auguste Rodin, Part 3.
The myth of Pygmalion which is spoken of in Ovid’s Metamorphosis has Pygmalion searching for beauty incarnate. This search takes the form of his making his image of beauty as a sculpture, the beauty that lies in the female form. The Greeks weren’t partial about beauty, they saw it in everything – but they did see it at its highest in mankind. So Pygmalion set about his sculpture which he found enrapturing.
During the feast of Aphrodite*, Pygmalion makes an offering to her and in doing so, includes his own wish that the goddess might bring about for him. Namely that the goddess might find him a girl to marry who is quite as beautiful as his statue.
It was on returning home that Pygmalion sees the beauty of his statue, a beauty so moving that he cannot withhold himself. He kisses it. Only on doing so, he notices that the lips of his statue are warm and that the embrace is now returned. His statue, his image of beauty has been given the breath of life by Aphrodite. What can he do but marry her?
In later times, this statue is given the name Galatea.
* (roughly equal to the Roman Venus).
Rodin’s Concept Of Beauty.
Rodin was as enraptured by ancient sculptures as Pygmalion was by his thoughts. Over the years, Rodin gathered a substantial collection of ancient art, much of which was Greek. Much of which was but a fragment of the original form. Rodin wasn’t put off by this, recognizing the beauty in the shard that had inspired the original. Rodin was nothing if not a modern man: he could see the beauty in a broken sculpture. The Greek who made it could only see the beauty in the whole – if you know your sculptures, you will know that it was the Roman sculptors that depicted the head only. For them it was enough to show the individuality. The Greek mind did not consider individuality in such a way, the first busts of Plato and his brethren date from Roman times.
To the Greek, then, the beauty of the human form implied it was complete. For the modern thinker like Rodin, a fragment was enough. That’s just as well, given how many Greek sculptures have survived the ravages of time.
Rodin’s sculpture shows only half of Galatea, showing only her upper half. It was only the dawning of the Roman way of thinking that allowed beauty to be half-formed in this way – and Rodin would take this much further, in a wholly modern manner, which is the subject for the next post.
For her part, Galatea is shown lying in an earthenware chalice of the sort made in Boeotea, no doubt reformed from one of Rodin’s fragments. Both are made from plaster, and subsequently cast. It must be noted the gentleness of Rodin’s Galatea, her languid arm and reposed head.
In this way, Galatea’s beauty is augmented by the gracefulness of the chalice in which she has been placed. The material form of the chalice is, however, complete. This would not be a conscious choice on the part of Rodin, and points to the things I wish to discuss in my next post.
The exhibition “Rodin, Genius At Work” is to be seen at the Groninger Museum in Groningen until the 30th of April. Having looked at all the photos I took, all the insights that I have gained through the studies required in preparing these posts, there is a good chance that I will be visiting it once more.