About a century ago a sculpture know as the Ain Sakhri Lovers was found near Bethlehem. It is about 11,000 years old (I ran across this in The History of the World in 100 Objects).
As described, this piece is about the size of a fist, and when viewed from other angles can resemble the genitals of either gender. As British sculptor Marc Quinn puts it in the book:
What’s incredible about this sculpture is that when you move it and look at it in different ways, it changes completely. From the side, you have the long shot of the embrace, you see the two figures. From another side, it’s a penis, from another a vagina, from another side breasts – it seems to be formally mimicking the act of making love as well as representing it. And those different sides unfold as you handle it, as you turn this object around in your hand, so they unfold in time, which I think is another important thing about the sculpture – it’s not an instant thing. You walk round it, and the object unfolds in real time. It’s almost like a pornographic film, you have long shots, close-ups – it has a cinematic quality as you turn it, you get all these different things. And yet it’s a poignant, beautiful object about the relationship between people.
I won’t bother trying to add to that but when you see this you cannot help leaping over ten thousand years to make the connection to Rodin.
There are of course differences. As some scholars have pointed out, the woman is the aggressor and the man not necessarily willing as evidenced by his passive hand. This contrasts with the parallel absorption of parties in the older sculpture.
Rodin’s remarkable work has not only had a great public impact but has engendered responses from other artists such as Brancusi.
And then there is this Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe (undated) which may or may not predate Rodin.
And finally (at least for now) a contemporary quite abstract ceramic work from on this theme from Liz Lescault.