Francesca da Rimini
Date of Creation:
Ganier, Rigaud and Mathet
Dante's Divine Comedy:
For The Kiss Rodin chose to depict a story from Dante's Divine Comedy. In the fourth level of the 'Inferno' Dante comes across Francesca De Rimini and her brother-in-law, Paolo Malatesta who had an affair in 13th century Italy. The pair were real figures who lived during Dante's lifetime.
Rodin captures the moment when the pair realize their love for one another and kiss for the first time, while reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. At this very moment they were discovered by Francesca's husband, Giovanni, who promptly stabbed them both, ending their lives. Rodin depicted the book itself, which can be seen in Paolo's hand, but did not depict the pair in any particular setting or with appropriate clothing that would identify them to the viewer.
inspiration for The Kiss can only have come from a literary source, its classical composition was taken from classic sculptures of Rodin's time and no more so than the work of his mistress, Camille Claudel.
Rodin decided not to include The Kiss in the finished composition, but presented it to the public as a sculpture on its own. The work was an immediate success and was reproduced in marble and bronze in varying sizes. However, Rodin considered it overly traditional, calling The Kiss 'a large sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula.'
'The sculptor must learn to reproduce the surface, which means all that vibrates on the surface; soul, love, passion, life... Sculpture is thus the art of hollows and mounds, not of smoothness, or even polished planes.'
Dante's Divine Comedy:
The two lovers depicted in The Kiss are Paolo and Francesca, two people who lived in the 13th century and were immortalized in poetry by Dante. The Divine Comedy was a popular literary inspiration for many 19th century artists.
The Kiss depicts a moment from Dante's Divine Comedy in which two lovers, Paolo and Francesca, kiss for the first time.
The intertwined figures ensure that this piece is aesthetically pleasing from all angles. Rodin noted that he chose to keep the figures nude so that nothing could interfere with the raw emotion that he wanted the viewer to feel immediately.
As with many of Rodin's sculptures The Kiss is designed to be viewed from every angle and Rodin wanted the piece to be believable and real. The artist certainly creates this and by making a sculpture which is visually stimulating from 360 degrees, his dedication and skill is obvious. The contrast between the smooth skin of the lovers and the rough marble of the rock they are sitting on adds further sensual elements to this piece.
The passion and romance of The Kiss is undeniable; the figures are so involved in one another that their faces are barely visible. The embrace with which they hold each other makes the tragedy of their love even greater and Rodin draws on themes which all audiences can appreciate in a way which is both romantic and sensual. Although both figures are nude, Rodin's skill as an artist ensured that the way the figures were rendered was not overtly sexual.
The Kiss was originally carved by one of Rodin's assistants, Jean Turcan but Turcan left Rodin's studio before the work was completed. This meant that the original copy of 'The Kiss' was roughly finished and Rodin chose to leave it this way rather than have it worked on my one of his other assistants.
Monument to Balzac
Reception during the Artist's Lifetime:
Rodin exhibited The Kiss with his Monument to Balzac in 1898 because he knew this classical form of sculpture would go down well with critics and the viewing public, and he wanted to soften the attention which his more abstract Monument to Balzac was bound to attract.
Rodin's predictions were correct and although Monument to Balzac was widely criticized, The Kiss was very well received.
Some critics were surprised by the lack of costume or setting that placed the lovers as those from Dante's Divine Comedy. However, Rodin wanted the emotion of the scene to be the only thing people considered upon viewing the sculpture and therefore chose to present the pair nude for this reason.
Despite the fact that The Kiss was a hit, Rodin himself did not give it much value. He wrote -
"The embrace of The Kiss is undoubtedly very attractive. But I have found nothing in this group. It is a theme frequently treated in the academic tradition, a subject complete in itself and artificially isolated from the world surrounding it; it is a big ornament sculpted according to the usual formula and which focuses attention on the two personages instead of opening up wide horizons to daydreams".
Although much of Rodin's work went out of style in favor of more experimental sculpture in the 20th century the lasting appeal of The Kiss did not waver significantly.
In 2004 The Kiss was named the United Kingdom's favorite masterpiece by a poll undertaken by The Independent newspaper. This poll not only demonstrates Rodin's everlasting appeal but also the power that The Kiss still holds over the viewer.
Works by Other Artist's on the Theme of Dante's Divine Comedy:
Ary Scheffer, The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil, 1855:
Another depiction of the forbidden lovers killed by Francesca's husband, Giovanni.
Alexandre Cabanel, Morte di Francesca da Rimini e di Paolo Malatesta, 1870:
This painting shows the scene of Francesca da Rimini who, forced to marry Giovanni Malatesta, later falls in love with his brother Paul. While exchanging their first kiss, Francesca's husband kills them with a single sword.
Work inspired by The Kiss:
The Kiss, Constantin Brancusi, 1907:
Constantin Brancusi, while denying that he was influenced by Rodin (in whose studio he had spent a few months upon his arrival in Paris), used the theme of lovers kissing repeatedly from 1907 to 1945.
Rodin's The Kiss was originally part of the The Gates of Hell composition. However, it was removed from this piece as the artist considered it as a state of happiness that did not fit the rest of the piece. When Rodin produced this piece individually in 1889 it was immediately popular with critics.
As a result of this success the artist received two further commissions for marble copies of the sculpture. One was for Carl Jacobsen for a museum in Copenhagen and the other was for the art collector Edward Perry Warren.
Today Perry Warren's copy resides in the Tate Gallery, London while the original The Kiss is in the Musee Rodin in Paris, France.
Impressionism is a movement that stylistically can only be defined in terms of painting. For this reason it is difficult to link the sculptures of Auguste Rodin with this movement other than the fact that they happened at the same time and Rodin knew many of Impressionism's most famous artists on a social level.
Below is a list of internet and literary sources that offer more in-depth information about Rodin's The Kiss.
• Barbier, Nicolle. Rodin sculpteur: Oeuvres méconnues. Exh. cat. Musée Rodin, Paris, 1992: 187-190
• Elsen, Albert, E. Rodin's Gates of Hell. University of Minnesota, 1960
• Hawkins, Jennifer. Rodin Sculptures. VAM HMSO, London, 1975
• Kausch, Michael. Auguste Rodin: Eros und Leidenschaft. Exh. cat. Harrach Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum
• Lawton, Frederick. The Life and Work of Auguste Rodin. London, 1906
• Mitchell, Claudine. Rodin the Zola of Sculpture. Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2004
• Rosenfeld, Daniel. "Rodin's Carved Sculpture. " In Rodin Rediscovered. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., 1981: 85-87
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