Mapping the Body and the Brain: Neurology and Localization Theory in the Work of Rodin

Barbara Larson


This essay interprets the expressive figural sculptures of Rodin in terms of emerging medical models of the brain and body in the late nineteenth century. Based in the science of neurology, localization theory posited that the brain was composed of individual sites responsible for discrete functions of the body and that specific neurological channels were tied to these areas. In localization theory, the activities of the brain were compartmentalized, a concept encouraged by the discovery that the two sides of the brain were not identical. In accordance with these new medical theories, Rodin’s figures respond to a multiplicity of internal stimuli, as though a variety of not entirely integrated sensations, responses, and movements were occurring at the same time. Neurology also supported the renewal of the idea of the mad genius (artist/poet), and Rodin’s Thinker (artist/poet) assumes the iconic posture of melancholy, long associated with both genius and pathology. Localization theory and neurology supported Jean-Martin Charcot’s explorations of hysterio-epileptic women. A number of figures of damned women, located just behind The Thinker on Rodin’s Gates of Hell are in postures associated with this disorder.


Rodin; Jean-Martin Charcot

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