“Rodin’s work includes hands, small, autonomous hands that, without being a part of any body, are alive. Hands that reach out, angry and menacing, hands whose five spikey fingers seem to howl like the five muzzles of the hound of Hell. Hands that walk, hands that sleep, and hands that wake up, criminal hands, hands with loaded histories, and others that are tired, that want nothing more, that are curled up in a corner like sick animals that know no one can save them. ”
In this commentary, Rilke underscores the amazing number and variety of hands that Rodin modeled. Often very small, these hands piled up in his drawers, and the Master would use them for marcottage. Then he would enlarge them, either to incorporate them in his figures or to create separate symbolist compositions such as The Hand of God, The Hand of the Devil, The Secret, The Cathedral and others. The Mighty Hand was executed in both a large and a small format.
From the moment of its creation The Mighty Hand, small version has enjoyed a very particular position; it’s the only hand that Rodin took out of the workshop and considered as a complete work of art in itself. He had several proofs of it cast, and it was shown in Geneva in 1896, in Paris in 1900, and in Prague in 1902; in each case, it was extremely well received.
In addition, Rodin allowed it to be reproduced frequently in the press, which gave it an unusually high visibility. All in all, it is his most widely distributed sculpture of a hand. During the Alma Exhibition in 1900, Rodin showed not only the plaster but also a series of photographs of it taken by Eugène Druet. The thirty photographs, featuring a bronze casting of The Mighty Hand standing on a marble pedestal or emerging from white drapery, presented a singular vision of the work; because of the different angles and perspectives, the expressive capacities of The Mighty Hand, small version are greatly multiplied, suggesting new interpretations. Some viewers saw it as crouching under its covering “like an evil beast” while to others, it conveyed a mournful sense of pain.
Menacing or in pain, the Mighty Hand, small version is endowed with an intense expressivity, which is conveyed through its powerful modeling and a composition that captures its extreme tension. Rodin, through his virtuosity, rendered the force contained in this tension palpable. Through this emphasis, the hand is no longer perceived simply as a fragment of the body; rather, “Rodin (...) has the power to give to a single part of this vast, vibrating surface the independence and the plenitude of a whole.”
It’s still difficult, even today, to determine exactly how many bronze proofs of the Mighty Hand, small version were made. Two institutions have tried to answer the question; based on various archives, the Rodin Committee estimates that some thirty examples were cast by various foundries, including Perzinka, François Rudier, Alexis Rudier, and Georges Rudier, between 1899 and 1861, both at Rodin’s request, and then later at that of the Rodin Museum.
Source of information - Masterart
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