There is nothing more human than a kiss. But then, a kiss is always more than a kiss.
The Kiss is a life-sized marble sculpture created in 1880 by Auguste Rodin that depicts the erotic axiom that a kiss is always more than a kiss.
What we see is the 13th century Italian beauty Francesca da Rimini with puckered lips almost but not quite touching the lips of Paolo Malatesta. Look close, and we remain unsure whether the couple are about to kiss, have just parted from a kiss or have been caught kissing in flagrante.
Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, Rodin was enchanted by the romantic story of Francesca da Rimini reading the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere as she fell in love with her husband’s younger brother, Paolo. Caught in the act, Giovanni Malatesta, a nobleman, does what nobles do and has the lovers killed.
Rodin told admirers when the work was finished that he carved women in marble as a homage to their beauty, not as slaves submitting to men, but partners locked in the heat of passion. The slender figures, shiny white and naked, are gripped in an embrace in such a way that the bare stone comes to life and creates what is one of the most erotic images in the history of art.
Rodin’s masterpiece can be seen at the Musée Rodin in Paris. A number of copies have been made, including one in bronze (74 cm/29 in high) sent to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The sculpture was considered too lewd for public display and connoisseurs had to make an application to see the work in a private room. Proof that a kiss is always more than a kiss.
Rodin had spent seven years carving the sculpture. He clearly fell in love with Francesca da Rimini and lent her name to the title of the work. When it was finally unveiled, the dignitaries thought the title too controversial and suggested it be changed to Le Baiser – The Kiss.
The sculpture was created to adorn the entrance to the Decorative Arts Museum in Paris and was part of a larger work called The Gates of Hell – a pair of ornately decorated bronze doors standing 20 foot high, the lintel topped by a group of reliefs, of which Le Baiser was one. Rodin began The Gates of Hell in 1880 and worked on the commission until his death thirty-seven years later in 1917.
The Judas Kiss
As a picture tells a thousand words, so a kiss is always more than a kiss. We kiss to say I love you. We kiss the rings of Popes and the self-important. The feet of conquerors. The rich dark earth when we reach the promised land.
We kiss our hands and wave as loved ones begin a journey. We kiss babies’ cheeks to absorb their innocence. A kiss beneath the mistletoe. A kiss after midnight. A kiss before dying. The devil’s kiss. According to Matthew’s Gospel, when Judas leaves the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper, Jesus says, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do,’ and the infamous Judas kiss is thought by some scholars to contain a complicity, a brief touching of lips to seal the terms of fate.
Two spacemen touching in anti-gravity is like a kiss. A kiss is a rare bird. The first sip of champagne. The fleeting glimpse of a shooting star. The kiss is uniquely human. We exchange the intimacy of bodily fluids with a kiss. A great kiss is like eating melon on a picnic. Like diving into a warm sea. A French kiss is a battle of tongues where everyone wins.
A really good kiss is like a secret you want to share. The first kiss stays in your mind – forever. Time expands with a really good kiss and you add another few seconds to the end of your life. Prostitutes don’t kiss their clients. It is too personal, too human. A kiss is always more than a kiss
Making love requires no thought. You move as the fronds of a palm tree move in the breeze. It is all instinct. All wonder. When you love someone, your lips are incomplete until they are oiled by a kiss. You can say ‘I love you’ a thousand ways but you can say it better with silence and a kiss.
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