Art, in adherence to its supremacy, prefers to let the emotions shown and sentiments felt rather than making explicit of the sexual matter. The theme with a couple interlocking in a passionate kiss was the favorite amidst artists who were daring enough to realize the passionate feelings or even, the sexual tensions, through their artworks. It cannot be more practical to use sculpture as a medium for embodying the motion of a kissing couple.
Auguste Rodin, being a sculptor who was noted for his revolutionary technique that marked him as a forerunner of Modern sculptures, showed also a departure of subject matters from those in the antiquity in The Kiss (1889). Marble seems more like a pristine guise for this rather rapturous depiction of love- just look at how the woman writhes her arms around the man’s neck, taking the initiative in procuring a kiss. Even with a sculpture like this that oozes unabashed eroticism, for decency’s sake Rodin restrained the potential gratuity of such intense sentiment. Modesty can be seen in the discreet distance of the pair that, despite their unabated love and irresistible desire, keeps their bodies from being too recklessly intertwined. Eroticism was not something Rodin courted but just pure, unalloyed manifestation of love.
Rodin’s 1889 sculpture reminds me of a painting by Francesco Hayez – the coincidentally titled The Kiss (1859). It is obvious that from how the man is dressed (cape and broad-brimmed hat), the meeting of the couple is surreptitious and thus the kiss should be quick but no less passionate. An impression of conspiracy and danger adds to this painting, with the subtle treatment of its lighting that underscores both figures’ silhouettes, which lurk stealthily up the stairs. Unbeknownst to the couple but to the astounded eyes of the viewers a third silhouette is visible just behind the pillar. As if witnessing a tragedy slowly unfolds, danger looms when the couple still revel in their ecstasy. We all know they will be a doomed pair.
Even under the straitlaced and morally-superior societies like the 18th and early 19th century England, such themes, much to the wonder of the high-minded detractors who considered such “pulp fictions” a considerable threat to the well-being of the community, still managed to flourish. Today, viewers scarcely blush when beholding such art pieces in galleries, but once the passion is powerful enough, our every sense still pricks up.