Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Mercury, known to the Greeks as Hermes, was Jupiter's son. Among his many functions, he was charged with conducting the souls of the dead to the Underworld and being the messenger of the gods. Rodin preferred this dramatic aspect of his character.
He appeared several times in the sculptor's works, alone, in groups, or on The Gates of Hell, and was first shown in 1889, entitled Mercury the Messenger, at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris. Rodin depicted him as a standing male nude with arms open wide. The right leg is stretched forward with pointed toes, the left is partially embedded in a sort of cloud or mound, which maintains the figure's balance.
On The Gates of Hell, where he was placed on the central jamb, the left leg was cut off at the knee so that the figure could be inserted into the background: hanging upside down, he no longer recalled the messenger of the gods, but joined the crowd of damned souls being thrown into the infernal abyss.
No distinctive attribute reminds the viewer of his identity: no caduceus, the insignia of messengers, no wings upon his ankles. Auguste Rodin concentrated more on how to render forms and handle the modelling which, for him, was nothing less than the imprint of "real flesh".
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