The Thinker was originally conceived for the center tympanum of The Gates of Hell, a monumental doorway commissioned for a museum of decorative arts in Paris. Rodin’s starting point for The Gates was the Inferno, written by the medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Rodin later explained the genesis of The Thinker:
In days long gone by, I conceived of the idea of the Gates of Hell. Before the door, seated on a rock, Dante, thinking of the plan of his poem . . . This project was not realized. Thin, ascetic Dante separated from the whole would have been without meaning. Guided by my first impression, I conceived of another thinker, a naked man, seated upon a rock, his feet drawn up under him, his fist against his teeth, he dreams. The fertile thought slowly elaborates itself within his brain. He is no longer dreamer, he is creator.
Rodin never indicated what his figure is thinking about, but shortly before his death, he expressed these thoughts about his creation:
What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.
Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in honor of Governor Michael F. Easley and Mary P. Easley