La Porte de l’Enfer/ The Gates of Hell is a 6mx4mx1m sculpture by Auguste Rodin. Rodin was commissioned in 1880 by the Directorate of Fine Arts to create the entrance to a planned Decorative Arts Museum and was given free studio space to do so. It was a milestone in his career as for the first time in his life the studio allowed him to live from private commissions alone. Though Rodin worked for 37 on the portal – working other commissions alongside – he never finished the work on it. It remained an unfinished portal for a museum never built.
The sculpture contains 180 figures those sizes vary from 15 cm to more than a meter. It depicts a scene from The Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Inspiration came from Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise at the Baptistery of St. John in Florence, from medieval cathedrals, Delacroix’s painting of Ddante and Virgil crossing the River Styx as well as from Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement. Rodin said himself that he had lived with Dante in his mind for a year, drawing the circles of his inferno until his ideas couldn’t be cast into the bronze of reality anymore. That’s when he started all over again working from nature with his models.
Having been accused of cheating in his first life size sculptures, Rodin decided to use only statues smaller than life for the portal. The figures and groups though connected by the common theme of meditation on the condition of man are physically and morally isolated in their torment on the portal. Their arrangement doesn’t follow any known law of composition. The Gates give and disordered and untamed depiction of hell.
Several of the figures on the portal were enlarged and became works of art of their own. Among them are The Thinker, The Kiss, The Three Shades, Adam and Eve and a couple more. Rodin left his studio and plasters to the French state. The original unfinished plaster of the portal can be viewed at Musee d’Orsay in Paris. It was used to create three original bronze casts in 1917 and a couple more in the years that followed. They were distributed to museums around the world.