“Man’s naked form belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages.”
Auguste Rodin’s kissing couple is probably one of the most romantic and sensual depictions of the theme of the kiss. The nude lovers are so involved with each other that their faces can hardly be seen from any angle. Even though Rodin casted the figures in extremely passionate embrace, the artist ensured that the piece is not overtly sexual by rendering the bodies in a classical way. Athletically built figures and their fluid poses evoke associations of classical Greek sculptures. Does the muscular man remind you of David and the feminine woman – of Aphrodite?
As a matter of fact, the composition and the subject were inspired by a tragic love story based on a real event that took place in Italy in 1275 and was described by Dante Alighieri in his “Divine Comedy”. In his book Dante met Francesca da Rimini and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta on their journey through the circles of hell. The lustful couple was condemned to be swept away for their sinful passion for each other in life. Rodin depicted the moment of the couple’s first fateful kiss, triggered by their joint reading of the romantic story of Lancelot and Genevieve (the book can be seen in Paolo’s hand). At this very moment the lovers were discovered and, shortly after, murdered by Francesca’s jealous husband.
The story of Paolo and Francesca had become a popular theme in painting after Dante’s book grew popular. The artists often depicted Francesca’s enraged husband watching the couple from the darkness. Unlike others, Rodin concentrated on the performance of the kiss itself: nudity and carnal lust of the intertwined figures make us forget their miserable fate, and look at it as an iconic image of love.
The loving couple first appeared on the left door of Rodin’s Gates of Hell. Rodin later removed it from this monumental work as it expressed a positive state contradicting with the overall tone of the Inferno gates. Consequently, Auguste Rodin created a full-sized sculpture that was well-perceived by the critics and was followed by numerous commissions, with the first one made by the French government for the 1889 Exposition Universelle.
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