Kiss Kiss – There Is Nothing Like A Kiss xx
The Kiss is a life-sized marble sculpture created in 1880 by Auguste Rodin. Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the French artist portrays from this cautionary tale the Italian beauty Francesca da Rimini with puckered lips almost but not quite touching the lips of Paolo Malatesta.
It is impossible to know whether the couple have just kissed, just parted from a kiss or have been caught kissing in flagrante. What Rodin shows is that the kiss is more than a kiss. The figures frozen in marble are naked and the fleeting peck is illicit. Francesca is not married to Paolo, but his older brother, and Dante delivers the customary punishment. Giovanni Malatesta, a nobleman, does the noble thing. He kills them both.
Rodin 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 he explained that the nude portrayal was ‘a homage to women, not just submitting to men but as full partners in ardour.’ The dignitaries, for reasons impossible to interpret, 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 a part of a larger work called The Gates of Hell – a pair of ornately decorated bronze doors standing 20 foot high, the doorway 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 37 years later in 1917.
So as not to offend public taste, The Kiss was removed from the display. A smaller, bronze copy of the sculpture, sent to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was likewise considered too lewd for general consumption, and again removed. As Rodin so rightly realised and so brilliantly reveals, the kiss is more than a kiss.
As a picture tells a thousand words, so a kiss says everything that’s important. Prostitutes never kiss their clients. It is too personal, too human. We kiss to say I love you. We kiss the rings of 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. 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. But then, there is nothing 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 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. A really good kiss reminds you why it’s hard to decide on the right lipstick. The first kiss stays in you’re mind – forever. Time expands with a really good kiss and you add another few seconds to the end of your life.
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.
Auguste Rodin understood all that a kiss meant. When in Paris, you can find his masterpiece at the Musée Rodin – on full public display, Francesca da Rimini as beautiful as ever, her lips almost but not quite touching the lips of her lover, her breasts gleaming like snow. If breasts are to your taste you will probably enjoy A Short History of Breasts – but first, tell me about your first kiss: who, where, when? I know you remember.