Rodin Works: The Sirens, The nereids, The Song of the Sirens, Niobe

The Sirens, Montreal'The Sirens' shows three entwined female figures kneeling and sitting on a piece of rock. According to Greek mythology, these sisters  lived on three small rocky islands, the Sirenum Scopuli. According to Ovid, the nymphs failed to prevent the abduction of their playmate Persephone by Hades. To punish them, her mother Demeter changed them into birds with female faces. 

Sirens with lyra, 4the C. BCAncient authors like Sophocles, Homer, Hyginus, Apollonius Rhodius, Tzetzes and Apollodorus differ as to their exact number (two, three or four), their proper names (Parthenope, Leucosia and Ligia, or Pisinoe, Aglaope and Thelxiepia, or rather Teles, Raidne, Molpe and Thelxiope), the true identity of their parents (Phorcys & the Muse Melpomene, or the storm god Achelous & the Muse Terpsichore), and the way they received their wings - when any.

Herbert James Draper (1864-1920), Ulysses and the Sirens (1909) Ferens Art Gallery, Hull But in all narrations, the Sirens were mentioned for their seductive songs, with which they lured unsuspecting sailors to the dangerous rocks. The smart Odysseus, however, had the ears of his crew sealed with wax and himself tied to the mast of his ship, to stop him from following their lethal invitation.

Rodin's sculpture depicts their sinuous bodies connected by their outstretched arms and long, undelating hair - a formal echo of the waves that surround them. Like many other works associated with the watery element - such as the 'Danaid' and 'Andromeda' - the aqualine shapes provide the figures with a polished sensuality and sweetness, which stands in strong contrast to their dramatic situation or malicious character.

In 'The Sphinx' (1886) and its later variation 'The Succubus' we recognize the dominating female character kneeling on the left side. As a group, 'The Sirens' appear for the first time on the lower left leaf of the 'Gates of Hell'; later the composition was worked out as an independent work, shown at the 1889 Rodin-Monet exhibition, together with both versions of 'The Sphinx'. Finally, Rodin made use of the three sisters again in the final version of the second 'Victor Hugo Monument' ('Apotheosis of Victor Hugo'),  where they can be found in a tilted position at the base of the pedestal, Gustave Doréand in 'the Death of the Poet', placed on the tympanum of a maquette for a fireplace [Grappe, no. 198]

Michelle Facos already pointed out that 'The Sirens' do not occur as such in Dante's 'Divine Comedy'. Aida Audeh, however, tries to trace the origin of the three sisters to Canto IX of Dante's 'Inferno', where Dante, approaching the city of Dis, encounters the three Furies, who threaten him with their serpent-like hair: Guarda", mi disse, "le feroci Erine. Quest'è Megera dal sinistro canto; quella che piange dal destro è Aletto; Tesifòn è nel mezzo"

Where in a moment saw I swift uprisen
The three infernal Furies stained with blood,
Who had the limbs of women and their mien, 

And with the greenest hydras were begirt;
Small serpents and cerastes were their tresses,
Wherewith their horrid temples were entwined. 

And he who well the handmaids of the Queen
Of everlasting lamentation knew,
Said unto me: "Behold the fierce Erinnys. 

This is Megaera, on the left-hand side;
She who is weeping on the right, Alecto;
Tisiphone is between;" and then was silent. 

Each one her breast was rending with her nails;
They beat them with their palms, and cried so loud,
That I for dread pressed close unto the Poet. 

"Medusa come, so we to stone will change him!"
All shouted looking down; "in evil hour
Avenged we not on Theseus his assault!" 

The Sirens, plaster, 1888, Musée Dr. FauréAccording to this argument, Rodin has included the three enchanting girls at the waterside in lieu of the three winged allies of the petrifying Medusa.

The group is known in different sizes and materials: marble versions are exhibited in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, The Cleveland Museum, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark and in the Thiel Gallery, Djurgarden, Stockholm; bronze versions can be seen in the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest, the NGA in Washington and in the National Museum of Western Art,Tokyo. The Rodin Museum of Philadelphia and the Musée Dr. Faure in Aix-les-Bains each own both a plaster and a bronze version.

Bibliography provided by NGA:

Geffroy, Gustave. "A. Rodin." La Justice (19 May 1887). 
Bartlett, Truman H. "Auguste Rodin, Sculptor." American Architect and Building News (19 January-15 June 1889): 225. 
Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. Paris, 1927: 63. 
Grappe, Georges. Catalogue du Musée Rodin. 5th ed. Paris, 1944: 67. 
Spear, Athena Tacha. Rodin Sculpture in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Cleveland, 1967: 8, 60-61, 64, 99. 
Tancock, John. The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin. Philadelphia, 1976: 215-219. 
Roos, Jane. Rodin, Hugo, and the Pantheon: Art and Politics in the Third Republic. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981: 651-652. 
Beausire, Alain. Quand Rodin Exposait. Paris, 1988: 105, 125, 131, 148, 157, 178, 181-182, 211, 233, 251, 255, 330. 
Fonsmark, Anne Birgitte. Rodin: La collection du Brasseur Carl Jacobsen à la Glyptothèque. Copenhagen, 1988: 122-123. 
Rosenfeld, Daniel G. Auguste Rodin's Carved Sculpture. Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 1993: 470-474. 
Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 207, repro. 
Porter, John R., and Yves Lacasse. Rodin à Québec. Quebec, 1998: 154-155. 
Butler, Ruth, and Suzanne Glover Lindsay, with Alison Luchs, Douglas Lewis, Cynthia J. Mills, and Jeffrey Weidman. European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 354-357, color repro. 


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