Auguste Rodin replicated, recombined, and refinished fragments of the human body, creating whole new pieces on their own. As an author relies on a limited alphabet of letters to write epics, Rodin used an assembly of partial figures – drawers full of hands, shelves heavy with legs – to create dynamic compositions. This practice of assemblage, using “figures he had previously created as a sort of image bank from which he drew forms to create new works,” reveals “how he liked to surround himself with a certain number of casts of the same subject, which constituted a form of vocabulary, which he would dip into as he searched for inspiration, truncating, adding new elements, simply modifying the original presentation, or integrating it into a new composition.” In The Burghers of Calais, brothers Pierre and Jacques de Wissant share the same hand, the same strong thumb opened up and away from the fingers. In contrast to his brother’s upturned gesture, Jacques’s left hand extends from an arm dangling at the man’s side, thumb and fingers open downward, as if letting something precious fall to the ground. Later, this same hand transformed into a symbol of creative power in The Hand of God.
Rodin to his English biographer, Frederick Lawton: “[The artist] thinks … of the whole, even in the part, and his study of the part is for him a way towards more nearly grasping the whole.”