The Hand of God
The Hand of God, designed ca. 1898; carving completed ca. 1917
100.3 x 82.6 x 68 cm (39 1/2 x 32 1/2 x 26 3/4 inches)
Museum Appropriation Fund 23.005
(December 16, 2016 – July 2, 2017)
The hand emerging from this block of rough-hewn marble represents the hand of God forming Adam and Eve. Its scale and energy contrast dramatically with the delicate bodies intertwined in a primal embrace, connecting Rodin’s interests in realism and symbolism. While evoking the act of a divine creator, Rodin also suggests his own identity as an artist and worker whose hand models life from stone.
One of three known marble versions, this work was purchased directly from Rodin by the Rhode Island industrialist and politician Samuel P. Colt and acquired by the Museum after Colt’s death.
1916 or 1917-1923, Purchased from the artist by Samuel P. Colt; 1923, Purchased by (RISD Museum), Providence, RI
European Paintings and Sculpture, ca. 1770 - 1937
Edited BySlimmon, Ann H, and Judith A. Singsen, eds.
Contributions byRosenfeld, Daniel, et al
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 1991
TypeMonographs and CollectionsSelected Works
Edited ByWoolsey, Ann, ed.
Publisher & DateMuseum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, 2008
TypeMonographs and Collections
Lax, Thomas J. “When the Stars Begin to Fall: The Studio Museum in Harlem”. New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2014.
About the work
In the last decades of his career, Auguste Rodin made sculptures that included or focused on hands, a subject that offered him a wide range of ways to convey abstract ideas and express emotions. The Hand of God demonstrates the sculptor’s skillful carving and close observation of the human body. It is also an example of Rodin’s innovative practice of using individual parts of the body, enhanced in scale and proportion, in striking poses or gestures.
Leaving the base of the marble stone in its relatively unfinished state, Rodin carved a large, tensed hand emerging from the roughhewn stone and holding two smoothly polished, interlocked figures. The contrast between the rough and polished areas, combined with the exaggerated size of the hand compared to the figures, suggests the biblical story of the creation of Adam and Eve.
Different aspects of the work emerge when it is viewed from different sides, the focus changing from the powerful energy of the hand to the female and male figures in their cupped positions. The sculpture was made by removing material from a larger mass of the stone—tool marks are visible on its lower sides. It is also clear that Rodin knew the process of modeling three-dimensional forms in clay; the work, viewed as a whole, appears as if it could have been molded from a pliable material. Given the ways The Hand of God is worked, the sculpture is as much about the power of Rodin’s artistic creativity and skill as it is an interpretation of the biblical story of human creation.
Consider how Rodin carved the different parts of the sculpture. In what ways do the figures contrast with the hand, and how do these differences contribute to your interpretation of the sculpture? To see different views of the sculpture, scroll through the four different images.
Although The Hand of God is a finished work of art, Rodin made some of the marble look unfinished. Have students consider the title of the work and how the contrast between the smooth and rough surfaces contributes to the meaning of the work.
Proportion refers to the relationship of things to each other in terms of their relative sizes. Discuss how the artist uses proportion in this sculpture.
Ask your students to create a new title for this work. What would it be and why?
Emphasizing his reliance on close observation of nature to create his work, Rodin said, “I invent nothing. I rediscover.” Have your students “rediscover” the familiar by asking them to examine and sketch something from nature in close detail, perhaps a branch or an interestingly shaped stone. So that they keep in mind how their viewpoint can change their understanding of what is being viewed, encourage your students to choose a particular perspective or angle that emphasizes one of their subject’s less obvious traits.
It was Rodin’s practice when working on a new sculpture to reinterpret or even reuse figures or parts of figures from his previous sculptures—in fact, the hand in this sculpture relates to hands in The Burghers of Calais (1889), a commissioned work made as a public monument for the city of Calais in France. Encourage students to explore the details from that sculpture included on this page, especially of the hands. Then ask students to find a public monument in their town or city—perhaps one with symbolic or historical figures—and to focus on a specific part that appeals to them. They can make some observational sketches from different sides. Then ask them to use these drawings to develop a new work of art. This can be a two-dimensional piece in pencil, charcoal, or paint, or can they employ materials such as Model Magic or clay to make a small three-dimensional piece.
Clare Vincent. “Auguste Rodin (1840–1917),” in Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000.
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rodn/hd_rodn.htm (October 2004)
Body Language: The Burghers of Calais
Royal Academy of Arts, London. Rodin. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2007.