The opening of "Rodin: The Knowledge of a Thousand Gestures" next Tuesday is a significant event for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

"This exhibit is an important one?one of the most important the museum has done," said Clif Olds, interim director of the museum. "We are very glad to have the exhibition. We don't always get the chance to exhibit works of artists from earlier centuries."

The exhibit will display bronzes by Auguste Rodin, a 19th-century French artist who excelled at depictions of human form and movement.

"Rodin was the greatest sculptor of the 19th century," Olds said. "He was a sculptor who some experts have compared with Michelangelo, and he was very influenced by him in terms of his handling of the human body."

The pieces that will be featured in the exhibit have also been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, as well as in several European and Asian countries.

They are pieces from Rodin's maquettes, or trial works in plaster that Rodin created before he died in 1917 that have since been turned into bronze sculptures by the Musée Rodin in Paris.

"When Rodin died, he left plaster castes to the French state with the idea that France would build a museum to house his work," Olds said. "He gave the museum permission to make more castes after his death."

"Unless a casting is verified by them, it is not considered an authentic piece by Rodin," Olds added of the Musée Rodin.

Of the eight pieces in the exhibit, Rodin created all but one in preparation for his work "The Gates of Hell," a sculpture depicting scenes from Dante's Inferno.

Although Rodin had plans to create the other two gates to Dante's realms of paradise and purgatory, he died before he could start them, and never saw "The Gates of Hell" caste in bronze. However, the reliefs in "The Gates of Hell" include several of Rodin's well-known works such as "The Thinker," "The Three Shades" and "The Kiss."

"The Three Shades" will be included in the exhibit at the museum. It consists of three six-foot-tall male nudes that would have gone at the top of the completed gate.

"They are the centerpiece of our show," Olds said. "These figures represent the dejection and sorrow that would go into being sent to Hell."

Another smaller piece in the show is a delicate hand that exemplifies Rodin's skill, according to Olds.

"What makes him important in the history of art is not only his art but that the way he created figures was vaguely related to Impressionist painting," Olds said. "He was more interested in the way light reflects off the surfaces of a sculpture."

Rodin focused on "the human body and the emotions it expressed, what it could say about the person on the inside of the body," Olds added.

The one exception to the exhibit is a bronze of a nude walking figure of St. John the Baptist, which was not part of "The Gates of Hell" maquette collection.

The sculptures will be on display in the rotunda of the museum, which, according to Olds, is the ideal space.

"The rotunda was designed to exhibit sculpture, so this collection will be perfect for that space. It will make the space make sense," he said.

Olds believes that the exhibit will further the museum's goal of becoming an integral part of the educational goals of the College, and hopes that faculty and students alike will take the opportunity to view the exhibit.

"Rodin was a great artist who did himself draw inspiration from a great artist of the past," he said. Rodin was also inspired by the political history of France and incorporated historically significant events into his works.

"He does represent an important part of history," Olds said.

The exhibit opens next Tuesday, Jan. 27, and will be on display until Aug. 3.