Count Ugolino and his children

Auguste Rodin • Painting, 1881, 41.5×58.7 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Portrait, Historical scene, Literary scene
Style of art: Impressionism
Materials: Gypsum
Date of creation: 1881
Size: 41.5×58.7 cm
Artwork in selections: 2 selections

Description of the artwork «Count Ugolino and his children»

Auguste Rodin's sculpture “Ugolino and His Children” It was originally conceived as part of a multi-figure composition of a grandiose project, on which the sculptor worked half his life, but did not finish it that way.

Well intentioned
The year 1880 became a landmark for Rodin: he received his first state order, and what a great deal! He was entrusted with creating a large-scale portal for the Museum of Decorative Arts, which was to open in Paris. The sculptor started an ambitious project, and its serious scale eventually played a cruel joke with the creator. Rodin called it "Hell Gate", And the ideas for the implementation came from the poem of Dante Alighieri" Divine Comedy. " According to his idea, several dozen figures were to form a single composition, framing the entrance to the building.

In searching for the perfect solution for the “Gates of Hell”, Roden either added one or removed other characters, the number of which in total over time reached about two hundred. He would either quit his job for several years or return to it again, starting from scratch. Naturally, he did not manage to complete the order on time, but the museum for which the "Gates of Hell" was intended also never opened. Despite this, until the end of his life, the sculptor did not give up hope of realizing his “construction of the century”, but he never saw it cast in bronze. This happened in 1925, after his death.

However, this whole story of endless torment of creativity had positive consequences. Many of the compositions that were originally part of the general structure of “The Gates of Hell” eventually grew into independent works. Moreover, they became one of the most famous in the legacy of Rodin: among them “Kiss","Eternal spring"," Ugolino and his children "and even"Thinker". By the way, the latter was initially conceived as a portrait of Dante Alighieri, crowning the entire composition, but later the sculptor simply called it “Poet”, as an embodiment of the universal image of the creator.

Ugolino and His Children: Crime and Punishment
And while Rodin, when creating the sculpture, was guided by the narrative of Dante Alighieri, Count Ugolino della Gerardeska was a historical character, the ruler of Pisa, who lived in the 13th century. He fell victim to the intrigues of the Archbishop of Pisa Ruggieri degli Ubaldini (in the struggle for power Ugolino killed his nephew), who declared the Count a traitor and imprisoned him in the tower with his two younger sons and two grandchildren. There they died two months later in 1289. Rumor had it that before his death Ugolino could not stand the hunger pangs and ate the flesh of his offspring.

Dante describes a meeting with Ugolino and his offender Ruggeri in the 32nd song "Hell." He finds them in the 9th circle, where they are in the pit, while the count bites into the archbishop "to where the brain closes and the neck". He tells Dante about his torment in the tower, as the children, seeing that he is biting his fingers in hungry torment, offer him to be saved: “Father, eat us, it will be easier for us; you gave us these miserable bodies - take them yourself; so justice judges ”. Dante does not directly indicate whether Ugolino accepted this terrible sacrifice, but leaves a hint in the form of a phrase:“But evil is more than grief, hunger was an affliction.”.

In the 19th century, "Divine Comedy" was very popular, many artists found inspiration in the expressive images described by Danteand in the tragic history of Count Ugolino as well. Paintings on this subject wroteWilliam Blake and Eugene delacroix, and in the 1860s the sculpture "Ugolino and his sons"Made famous the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Carpo. He sculpted the count as a stately athlete, resisting the painful temptation, digging into his fingers in despair, while the children intertwined at his feet.

Truth or lie
According to the initial sketches, Rodin also intended to portray Ugolino as sitting, but in the end he placed him on his knees: the count crawls over the bodies of children, his mouth frenzied frantically. If at Karpo we see a strong man trying to maintain his human appearance in a hopeless situation, then at Rodin Ugolino looks distraught and miserable.

In 2002, the count's ominous history took on a continuation. A study of his remains proved that Ugolino did not eat meat during the last few months of his life. Moreover, he had only a few teeth left, which could hardly have allowed him to commit those terrible deeds that rumor attributed to him. Also on the skull of Ugolino, traces of a blow were discovered, as a result of which he actually died. Like children who also died by violent death, and not from hunger.

With all this, in 2008 there were researchers who protested the examination, referring to the falsification of documents on the burial of the Ugolino family (despite the fact that the first study was based on DNA examination). It seems that the unfortunate count was never destined to find peace in the next world.

The author: Natalia Azarenko