Religious Art: The Hand of God

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), ‘The Hand of God’, marble, 1898.

Rodin’s own hand was the model for this sculpture; the hand of God is the hand of the artist.  In Mormon parlance it is both hackneyed and trite to associate our hands with God’s, and yet this piece offers other (perhaps significant) intimations.

In style, it is certainly reminiscent of ‘The Kiss’, which is housed at the Tate Modern.  Yet the incompleteness of the sculpture captures a very different feeling from this other work.  Kristine Haglund’s presentation at the Mormon Theology Seminar speaks to this difference.  Riffing off D&C 42:40-42 (‘And their beauty the beauty of the work of thine own hands’), Kristine argues that technical excellence is not the only prerequisite for formal beauty.  Likewise this unfinished quality stands in contrast (cf. Michaelango) to the more traditional aesthetic of ‘The Kiss’.  Not to suggest that Rodin was in anyway sloppy or imprecise here but rather there is recognition that the divine work incorporates the contingency and fragility of all our earthly endeavours.

By connecting Rodin with this revelation, Zion, creation and beauty can be seen as mutually constitutive.  This divine work, a work that we are to become co-participants in, creates beauty (and life).  Rodin seems to equate the rough stone with the primal unity of creation; identity and difference emerge from the formless void of those initial creative moments.  Art has long been used to build community; and if Zion is not only to be built, but to be beautiful, then Art is surely an important component of that endeavour.

Additionally, ‘Hand of God’ freezes a moment of transition; by suspending the process of becoming Rodin focuses the observer upon the uncertain teleology of the sculpture.  Natality, sexuality and transition are all captured here in one moment of separation and birth.  The sculpture, in this view, is open-ended.  Both God and man are in the process of creation and expansion.

To suggest that there is something sexual about this moment does not require that it is in some way crude.  Rather this captures the sacramental quality of intimacy that Elder Holland discussed.  The tenderness of the overlapping hands and the interwoven bodies seem to be both innocent and at a peace.  There is no vanity or insecurity in this space neither is there shame or silence.  Rodin has represented something of the deep connection that exists between people and the world.

Comments

  1. Mommie Dearest says:

    Rodin’s genius was that he could take a hackneyed and trite notion and make something visually poetic out of it.

  2. mmiles says:

    Wow.

  3. Something is wrong with my computer and I can’t see the picture. But I’ve seen it before and I love this sculpture. I like your analysis.

  4. Great stuff Aaron.

  5. Thank you, but really this is just my attempt to internalise some of the ideas I gleaned from Kristine’s excellent presentation at the Mormon Theology Seminar.

  6. Shouldn’t we hang a sheet over this nudity? BYU would.

  7. This is simply beautiful.

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