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Orpheus (Orphée)

European Art

Here, Rodin presents the poet and musician Orpheus, who according to myth descended into the underworld to rescue his dead lover, Eurydice. Orpheus played his lyre for Hades, who agreed to free Eurydice if Orpheus did not turn back to look at her while escorting her back to the upper world. Unable to resist, he glanced back at her too soon and lost her again forever.

It is unclear which moment Rodin is depicting. Is it defeat, desire, or exultation that produces Orpheus’s upstretched torso and expression? Some of the ambiguity can be explained by the fact that, in its original form, the sculpture included the figure of Eurydice hovering over Orpheus’s shoulder; one of her hands can still be seen on the back. As Rodin’s own description of the work reveals, removing Eurydice allowed him to better convey the many contradictory emotions and temporal dislocations that were his true subject:
I have represented Orpheus at the moment when having tuned his lyre for the infernal chorus and having been awarded the coveted prize of Eurydice he sinks back overcome by the fatigue of his wanderings and the memory of his past anguish. One folded leg partly supports his failing body and his left hand upholds the lyre, while his right hand is extended in supplication. He is to lose Eurydice again, but he does not suspect this now, when the bliss of regaining her has broken the long strain of suspense and suffering.
  • Place Made: France
  • DATES 1908, cast 1980
    DIMENSIONS 57 1/2 x 30 x 49 1/4 in. (146.1 x 76.2 x 125.1 cm)  (show scale)
    MARKINGS Back, proper right: "E. GODARD FOND." Base, proper right: "© by Musée Rodin 1980"
    SIGNATURE Base, proper left: "A. Rodin"
    INSCRIPTIONS Base, proper left: "No 7"
    COLLECTIONS European Art
    CREDIT LINE Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Orpheus (Orphée), 1908, cast 1980. Bronze, 57 1/2 x 30 x 49 1/4 in. (146.1 x 76.2 x 125.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 84.75.3. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 84.75.3_SL1.jpg)
    EDITION Edition: 7/12
    IMAGE overall, 84.75.3_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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