Rodin Works: minotaur

Faun and Nymph / The Minotaur

(Faune et Nymphe / Minotaure)
(de Caso / Sanders 1977, p. 105-108, cat. no. 14; 
Elsen 2003, p. 510-512, cat. no. 157; Tancock, 1976, p. 270-273, cat. no. 41)

'The Minotaur' is one of the sculptures of Rodin often exhibited: it first recorded exhibition was in Munich (1896), thereafter it was shown in Vienna (1898), The Hague (1899), Paris (1900, 1910, 1917), Potsdam (1903), Düsseldorf (1904) and Barcelona (1907). The sculpture was exhibited under different titles like 'Faun and Woman', 'Satyr and Nymph' or 'Jupiter Taurus'. With the title 'Jupiter Taurus' the figure would show the transformation of the Head of the Gods into a bull, kidnapping Europa (Elsen 2003: 510; Tancock 1976: 270).

Rodin himself preferred the title 'The Minotaur', referring to mythology. After the wedding of Minos and Pasiphaë and her union with a bull, the Minotaur is born. Each year the Athens have to sacrifice him seven maids and seven young men until he is finally beaten by Theseus. With the title 'The Minotaur', the composition of Rodin shows the Minotaur with one of his sacrifice (Tancock 1976: 270).

About the different titles and different interpretations Rodim himself said to Paul Gsell: “you must not attribute too much importance to the themes that you interpret. Without doubt, they have their value and help to charm the public; but the principal care of the artist should be to form living muscles.” (Gsell : 163f.; quoted after Tancock 1976: 270). And Rodin took as an example the group Pygmalion and Galatea, for which, he declared, the minotaur had been the first sketch (Alma 2001: 100).

But Rodin did not only illustrate the myth of the minotaur in his sculpture, he offered the opportunity of speculation about what may have happened before and could happen after the situation depicted. The figure shows no violent seduction and the nymph has no terrified look or frightened gesture. The minotaur is seated on a rock, staring open-mouthed at the nymph’s hair. His left hand is holding her elbow, while with his right hand he embraces her extended right thigh, where it met the left hand of the nymph. Although the nymph is raising her shoulder and with the whole body she is leaning against her left side, it seems, that she has no inclination to rebuff her horned seducer. Her right leg is slung over his, but with her foot pressing against the ground, she seems to avert his embrace. But her right hand is simply lying on her own thigh and her facial expression shows rather a frown than fear (Elsen 2003: 510).

A related figure to 'The Minotaur', represents 'Triton and Nereid', a terra-cotta version of which is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In this fragmental study the particular figures are closely connected with each other. Triton is successful in positioning a kiss on Nereid’s back, which makes allusions that they may have a love-relation. The fact that the figure of Triton is reduced to his lips - from the rest of the body only one of his hoofs is visible - reinforces the expression of sensual desire (Tancock 1976: 270). The close relation to 'The Minotaur', suggests a date of about 1886 for the formation of this group.

'The Minotaur' points to Rodin’s inclination for the art of the eighteenth century which were also shared by several contemporaries. Perhaps for this reason the figure was one of the works most widely admired by early connoisseurs. The first cast was owned by Edmond de Concourt whom Rodin first met in 1879 and who later visited Rodin frequently. At the de Concourt Sale the work passed into the hands of Comte Robert de Montesquiou; this plaster now is in the collection of the Philadelphia Rodin Museum. Probably also Mallarmé may have possessed a plaster cast of 'The Minotaur', because Rodin frequented his salon in the late 1880s and 1890s. Rodin's friend, the sculptor Camille Lefèvre, owned a plaster cast as well (now in Belfort); still another plaster copy was in the collection of Loïe Fuller (now in the Maryhill Museum).

The original plaster of 13 ½ inches height was later enlarged - a plaster of 22 ½ inches is listed in the Grappe catalogue of 1929 and 1931, although this is omitted from later editions. A reference to a marble version of the figure is found in the catalogue of the 1918 exhibition in Basel. Probably it refers to the same figure which is now in the collection of the Museum Folkwang in Essen (Tancock 1976: 272).



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