Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 July 2013
Among the artists and illustrators in nineteenth-century France inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) is unique for the attention he accorded the seventh canto of Inferno. The numerous drawings Rodin created as he read Dante's poem in preparation for his monumental sculpture, the Gates of Hell (Fig. 1), are remarkable for their treatment of the canto's primary figures. These figures' prominent placement in significant relief on the Gates suggests that the artist grasped the importance of canto 7 not only within the Inferno, but also in relation to the entire Divine Comedy. While ostensibly concerned with the punishment of the Avaricious and the Prodigal, central to Inferno 7 is the question of free will in relation to man's changing circumstances as administered by the goddess Fortune. Rodin came to Dante through the lens of nineteenth-century France and its interpretation of the poet's work, however, suggesting that his understanding of the issues raised by canto 7 was affected by the advent of the modern age and its skepticism. And while Dante ultimately affirms man's ability to choose his course in response to the challenges in life wrought by change, where Rodin ends on the issue of free will and the possibility of salvation within the context of the modern world is left ultimately in question on his Gates of Hell.