“I’m on the toilet!”
“So? Cover your camera – you HAVE to see this!”
My little sister was at the Musée Rodin in Paris during that phone call. Her excitement was over giving me a 360-degree view of my favourite EVER sculpture in its home. It was the most unusual way I’ve seen The Kiss but it wasn’t the first.
The first time I saw the lovers entwined was in 2003 at the Tate Modern when modern artist Cornelia Parker ‘vandalised’ the masterpiece with a mile-long spool of string. But that’s another blog piece for another time.
It was, however, in 2013, when the Tate Modern loaned The Kiss to the National Galleries of Scotland as part of a larger annual exhibition, that I got to stand in front of such beauty. I felt exactly the way I thought I would. In awe, unable to turn away. This feeling was only deepened when the lovers arrived at The British Museum this year as part of a larger Rodin collection. The impact was so powerful. There they were, frozen in time. The first thing you would see through the glass doors with an all-encompassing spotlight. I didn’t even need to see the rest of the exhibition. My love for this emotive, sculpted block of marble was enough.
Like many of Rodin’s pieces, The Kiss was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the lovers represented the story of Francesca Da Rimini who fell in love with her husband’s brother, Paolo Malatesta. Their illicit affair began as they read to each other, represented by the book that Paolo is holding. As fate would have it, the doomed lovers were discovered by Francesca’s husband, who then stabbed them both to death.
Rodin was originally working on The Gates of Hell, a much larger project for a new museum in Paris, circa 1880s, when The Kiss came to him. His vision portrayed a more sensual and romantic existence rather than something hellish, so he decided that these particular lovers would be better suited as a stand-alone piece. A piece that would later fuse together the love between sculptor and marble with the love between Paolo and Francesca.
The Kiss radiates a warmth that only two bodies embraced can omit and, despite being so erotically charged, the energy that would come with such passion comes to a complete halt. A stillness in one moment. A moment that you want to last forever because you know what’s coming for the lovers. You don’t want their story to end, you don’t want their love to be lost and that is why I love this masterpiece so much. Rodin gives us this. He stops time for us, for Paolo and Francesca. For that moment, what is scandalous love becomes divine love symbolised by the smooth white marble of the bodies contrasting the roughness of where they sit. What is a naked embrace becomes a pure embrace of two heavenly beings. What is a secret affair is a love so honest that their kiss is merely the physical, earthly act of two souls re-uniting. Rodin not only gives us, the viewer, hope that such a love can exist but also keeps us grounded with the fate that awaits.