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The Art of the Kiss

The Art of the Kiss

The Kiss in Art

Cultural connotations of kissing vary widely. Depending on the culture and context, a kiss can express sentiments of love, passion, romance, sexual attraction, sexual arousal, affection, respect, greeting, friendship, and peace, among many others.

In some situations, a kiss is a ritual, formal or symbolic gesture indicating devotion, respect, or sacrament.

Explore the Kiss in Art

The Kiss in Art

  • “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova
    • “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova shows the mythological lovers at a moment of high emotion. It represents the god Cupid in the height of love and tenderness, immediately after awakening Psyche with a kiss. Having been awakened, Psyche reaches up toward her lover, Cupid, as he gently holds her by supporting her head and breast.

      This sculpture exemplifies Antonio Canova’s craftsmanship and skills in carving marble that provides superb contrast between the smooth skin of Psyche and Cupid as compared to the surrounding elements. The detached draping around Psyche’s lower body, emphasizes the difference between the texture of skin and drapery. Beautiful curls and lines define the hair, and the feathery details create the realistic wings of Cupid. The rough stone texture provides the basis of the rock upon which the composition is placed. Museum:  Hermitage Museum

  • “The Kiss” by Auguste Rodin
    • “The Kiss” by Auguste Rodin is a marble sculpture of an embracing couple. Initially, it was created to depict the 13th-century Italian noblewoman immortalized in Dante’s Inferno who falls in love with her husband younger brother. Having fallen in love while reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, the couple is discovered and killed by the husband.

      In the sculpture, the book can be seen in the man’s left hand. The lovers’ lips do not actually touch in the sculpture, suggesting that they were interrupted and met their demise without their lips ever having touched. When critics first saw the statue in 1887, they suggested the less specific title “The Kiss”, and this is now the title of this masterpiece. Museum: Musée Rodin

  • “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt
    • “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt shows a couple embracing, their bodies entwined in elaborately decorated robes. The couple is kneeling at the edge of a flowery meadow. The work is composed of oil paint with applied layers of gold leaf, a feature that gives it a modern and unique appearance. The painting is considered a masterpiece of the early 20th-century and a symbol of Viennese Art Nouveau.

      The Kiss is a vibrant and sensuous image which was a reaction to the academic art of the 19th century. It was inspired by natural forms, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. Klimt’s use of gold leaf echoes medieval gold paintings and illuminated manuscripts, and Byzantine mosaics. Klimt traveled to Venice and Ravenna, which are both famous for their beautiful Byzantine mosaics and which inspired his gold technique and his imagery. Museum: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

  • “The Stolen Kiss” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
    • “The Stolen Kiss” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicts a kiss between two lovers, showing a young lady in cream-colored silk gown who has left the group women in the next room for a secret meeting with a young man. Fragonard’s painting displays the kind of eroticism and romantic folly that was popular before the French Revolution among French aristocrats. This scene of voyeurism depicts the stolen kiss in lavish surroundings, containing luxurious details of textures, silks, and lace, like the rug with flower pattern, silk draperies, her shawl on the chair, the elegantly clad ladies that are visible through the open door.

      The dominant French culture was highly influential on Fragonard’s themes which were mostly erotic, secretive romance or love scenes, painted for Louis XV’s pleasure-loving court’s enjoyment. However, Fragonard’s skills are evident in the diagonal composition framed by the two doors. The diagonal axis is composed on the one end, by the lady’s leaning figure and her extended arm holding on to the shawl that is diagonally draped over the table, at the other end. Fragonard offers us an array of compositional contrasts between colors and shadows and the complex spatial intersections. Museum:  Hermitage Museum

  • “Eternal Springtime” by Auguste Rodin
    • “Eternal Springtime” by Auguste Rodin was modeled in clay during the same period as “The Kiss” in 1884. This sculpture depicts a pair of lovers caught in a floating embrace. Their outstretched and graceful limbs are in sharp contrast to the compact, inward-focused sculpture of “The Kiss”.
      This sculpture has an air of weightless and floating quality which makes it a perfect ode to springtime love. Rodin created Eternal Springtime at a time when he was in a romantic relationship with Camille Claudel. It is claimed that traces of Camille can be discerned in the women of this masterpiece and other female figures prominent in the works Rodin created in the mid-1880s. This work was reproduced several times in bronze and marble. Museum: Rodin MuseumPhiladelphia

  • Ain Sakhri Lovers
    • The Ain Sakhri Lovers figurine is a sculpture that was created over 11,000 years ago and is the oldest known representation of two people engaged in a loving embrace. It was found in one of the Ain Sakhri caves near Bethlehem. The sculpture was made by carving a single rock of calcite cobble which was picked away with a stone point to create the heads, arms and leg positions of the couple. The sculpture shows the lovers face to face.

      The arms of one of the couples are positioned around the shoulders of the other. The legs are drawn up and embraced the waist of the other. The sculpture figurine lacks fine details but is expertly sculptured to allow the imagination to visualize different interpretations depending on the viewer’s perspective. Depending on the viewing angle and the shadows from the lighting on the sculpture, it can appear as a couple, or as different sexual anatomies or motifs depending on the perspective. Museum: The British Museum

  • Kiss of Death, Lipstick Pistol
    • The Kiss of Death, Lipstick Pistol was a weapon issued by the KGB during the Cold War. It was a single shot 4.5 mm pistol hidden inside a lipstick holder. It was initially discovered in West Berlin at an American checkpoint. This weapon was issued by the KGB about 1965.

      The KGB was the security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and its chief functions were foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, guarding the borders and the leadership of the Soviet Government as well as combating anti-Soviet activities. It reached the height of its reputation during the Cold War. After the dissolution of the USSR, the KGB was split into the Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation. Museum: International Spy Museum

  • Hellelil and Hildebrand, Meeting on the Turret Stairs by Frederic William Burton
    • “Hellelil and Hildebrand, the Meeting on the Turret Stairs” by Frederic William Burton depicts an imagined romantic moment from a story with a sad ending. The story is taken from a medieval Danish ballad, which tells the story of Hellelil, who fell in love with her personal guard Hildebrand.

      Her father disapproved of the relationship and ordered her seven brothers to kill the young prince. Burton portrays the final meeting of the two lovers. Museum:  National Gallery of Ireland

  • “Kiss by the Window” by Edvard Munch
    • “Kiss by the Window” by Edvard Munch forms part of his series known as “The Frieze of Life”, which examines the cycle of life, death, and love and was produced between 1893 and 1918. In this painting, Munch depicts one of the stages of a relationship between men and women. It is a motif of a couple kissing which he had experimented with over several years. In this version of the Kiss, there is a contrast between the world inside and outside of the room in which the couple is situated. The outside world shows movement, whereas the interior of the room is timeless, with the couple frozen in their embrace. In this version, the couple’s abstract form, in which their bodies appear to be merged as one, indicates their sense of belongingness and togetherness.

      The Kiss motif is part of a series Munch called the “Frieze of Life”, on which he spent more than 30 years of his career. The cycle depicts stages of a relationship between men and women and is part of what Munch called “the battle between men and women that is called love”. It includes portrayals of attraction, courtship, realization, and disappointment. Edvard Munch had to cope with mental illness during his life, and he experienced disappointment in love and his health. Museum: National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design – Norway

  • “The Kiss” by Francesco Hayez
    • “The Kiss” by Francesco Hayez depicts a couple from the Middle Ages, embracing while they kiss each other. The girl leans backward, while the man bends his left leg to support her, simultaneously placing a foot on the step next to him as though poised to go at any moment. The facial features of the couple at the center of the painting, are not visible. Hayez wanted the action of the kissing to be at the center of the composition. In the left part of the canvas, shadowy forms lurk in the corner, emphasizing an impression of conspiracy and danger. This painting conveys the main aspects of Italian Romanticism and has come to represent the spirit of Italian unification in the 19th century.

      The perspective of the Kiss is set on a series of diagonals which follow the course of the steps and converge to the vanishing point, placed to the left of the two lovers. These lines represent the framework of the painting and bring the observer’s attention to the couple. The rich brown of the cloak and the red of the man’s tights blend with the light blue in the dress of the girl, while the neutral colors of the background help the couple stand out. A light, coming from the left of the picture also highlights the couple and the reflections enhance the silky dress of the girl, also emphasizing the pavement and the bricks on the wall. Museum: Brera Art Gallery, Pinacoteca di Brera

Star-Crossed Lovers

“Star-Crossed Lovers” is a phrase used to describe a pair of lovers whose relationship is often frustrated by outside forces. The term initially meant that the stars are working against the relationship. Astrological in origin, the phrase stems from the belief that the positions of the stars ruled over people’s fates, and is best known from the play Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare.

“A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”
– Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

“Star-Crossed Lovers” are often said to be doomed from the start. Famous examples exist in every culture and include:

  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Hellelil and Hildebrand
  • Pyramus and Thisbe
  • Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff
  • Lancelot and Guinevere
  • Tristan and Isolde
  • Hero and Leander
  • Pedro of Portugal and Inês de Castro
  • Pelléas and Mélisande
  • Troilus and Cressida
  • Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl
  • Layla and Majnun
  • Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai
  • Devdas and Paro (Parvati)
  • Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta
  • Mark Antony and Cleopatra
  • Khosrow and Shirin
  • Heloise and Peter Abelard

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“A kiss is a secret told to the mouth instead of the ear;
kisses are the messengers of love and tenderness.”

– Ingrid Bergman


Photo Credit 1) Frederic William Burton [Public domain]