In the centre of this monumental bronze relief, a brooding male fi gure sits with his head in his hands. Around him course a multitude of naked people, who give vent to anxiety and despair as they are sucked down toward an abyss along the edge of the relief. Some of the people stretch out their arms in supplication toward the fi gure in the middle, but they are driven inexorably on, while fi gures in the background hover about in a dreamlike state. The sense of dread is intensifi ed by the dead men hanging from the gallows to the left.
Gustav Vigeland titled this relief Hell and referred to the enthroned man in the middle as Satan. The artist had displayed an earlier plaster cast model of the relief at his fi rst solo exhibition at the Christiania Kunstforening in 1894. The relief was a principal work in the young artist’s oeuvre, and it garnered much attention in the press. It was a remodelled version that three years later was cast in bronze and purchased by what was then the Museum of Sculpture.
Vigeland travelled to Paris in 1893 and was inspired by what he saw there, for example when he visited Auguste Rodin’s studio and took in the powerful Gates of Hell. The infl uence from the French sculptor is in fact evident in Vigeland’s relief, in particular in the fi gure of Satan. While this fi gure is referred to as the Thinker or the Poet in Rodin’s work, Vigeland called him Satan and portrayed him as a melancholic figure deep in his own thoughts. Both fi gures lack the attributes of the devil, and both view the suff ering of the people at a contemplative distance.
Text: Elsebet Kjerschow
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0