Heading to the auction block at Artcurial in Paris is Rodin’s “Andromeda,” a white marble sculpture of a nude female crouched over a rock - his take on the Greek myth about sacrificing a woman to a sea monster to save a kingdom. The sculpture was privately owned for more than a century and while such an ownership has some historic interest, there’s something of greater historic value in this story. Of all the images of Andromeda through the ages (particularly in paint), Rodin’s version is markedly different and that unconformity warrants praise.

When a nude is not a nude but a state of mind

While other artists have shown Andromeda in full frontal nudity as she’s chained to a rock awaiting her fate, Rodin chose to reveal only her bare back as she bends over the rock, holding fast to it as if to protect herself from the impending attack. He rightly focused on her nervousness, not her nakedness. After all, who would stand stark-naked to face an attack? Granted, Greek myths are full of damsels in distress. Yet artists to a man invariably choose to describe her anatomy. Such focus is not confined to the myth of Andromeda alone. Paintings and sculpture about other Greek tales - Cephalus and Procris and Lygia and the Bull - also put nude bodies of women on display.

This also goes for illustrations of Biblical stories like Sarah and the Elders and David and Bathsheba.

When figurative art is about more than a figure

Rodin’s “Andromeda” is one of his many sculptures that pay homage to the human condition. In fact, you might say that he made plaintiveness and poignancy his life’s work and this includes the suffering of men as well as women.

His “Kneeling Figure” describes a male kneeling with his arms raised heavenward, as if in prayer. “I see all the truth, and not only that of the outside,” he told his biographer Paul Gsell. “I accentuate the lines which best express the spiritual state that I interpret.” Don’t you wish other artists would do that, too?

Another distinguishing characteristic

But wait, there’s something else special about Rodin’s “Andromeda.” Unlike his other work full of broken surfaces, like sketches in three-dimension, this marble work shows no broken line anywhere. And as unusual as that is for his work, he was also known to admire the statue “Venus de Milo. Gsell quotes him talking about the classical work this way: “Just look at the numberless undulations of the hollow that unites the body and the thigh…You would think it modeled by caresses! You almost expect, when you touch this body, to find it warm.” Isn’t that what comes to mind when you see his sculpture “Andromeda?