Rodin Works: the hand of god and other hand studies

In the late 1880s, Rodin began with several studies of hands. The idea to model hands separated from their bodies was inspired by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1887, who made a series of hands with dramatic gestures, silhouetted against a dark background. For Rodin, who by this time started to fancy fragmentary sculptures, such isolated hands still had the complete capacity to express emotions.

The Cathedral After having executed 'The Clenched Hands' and the 'Left Hand' in 1885 as studies for the 'Burghers of Calais', Rodin modeled 'The Hands of God' in 1898, which became one of his most famous studies of isolated hands, together with 'The Cathedral'.The Hand of God, marble, photo: Bruno Jarret

The 'Hand of God' was probably derived from a hand modeled for Pierre and Jaques de Wissant in the 'Burghers of Calais'; one of these open hands, with the typical gesture of the thumb bent outwards, was cast in bronze, directed upwards, under the title 'Large Hand of Pierre de Wissant'. In 'the Hand of God', a nearly identical hand is shown creating man and woman from a lump of clay; the hand itself evolves from a block of rough marble, so duplicating the theme of creation from formless material. In 1898, Rodin told the Gazette des Beaux-Arts:

"When God created the world, it is of modeling he must have thought first of all."

Quoted by Cladel, Rodin: The Man and his Art with Leaves from his Note-book, Century Co., New York, p. 222; see Tancock, p. 622

The Hand of Rodin, posthumous composition, plaster, Philadelphia Rodin MuseumThis statement illustrates that Rodin thought of the Creator as an artist, at the same time attributing quasi god-like qualities to himself as a sculptor. After Rodin's death in 1917, this self-agrandizing tendency was picked up by his admirers, who used a plaster cast taken from Rodin's hand and combined it with a small female torso; this posthumous composition, which closely resembles 'The Hand of God', became known under the title 'Hand of Rodin'. This way not only the association between Rodin and God was cemented: also his assistants, instructed by Leonce Bénédite, now seemed to participate in Rodin's omnipotent creativity by launching a "Rodin sculpture" of their own. This artefact - mocking Rodin's aversion against the moulage technique he was once accused to have employed for 'The Age of Bronze' - was subsequently canonised by aThe Hand of Devil, photo: Bruno Jarret series of catalogues and exhibitions, till it was finally used as the basis for a posthumous edition by the Musée Rodin, supplied with a "A. Rodin" signature stamp.

There are three different versions of 'The Hand of God', varying in the size. Athena Spear points out that the first version of 'the Hand of God' - 12 inches - was later enlarged to 28 inches and also reduced to 6 inches.

As a counterpart to the 'Hand of God' Rodin created the 'Hand of the Devil Holding Woman' around 1903. The title leaves room for the interpretation that Rodin, at times, perceived womanhood as a diabolic invention.



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