Last week, at Christie’s London, Auguste Rodin’s Baiser ('The Kiss') sculpture was sold for £12.6m to an Asian collector. This sculpture depicting the impassioned kiss of two naked lovers has become one of the greatest illustrations of all consuming, overwhelming and rapturous romantic love. But the origins of its subject matter are in fact the contrary of what we think it is. It’s a representation of a pair of adulterous couple who has committed ‘sins of the flesh’.
Rodin’s The Gates of Hell: Musée d'Orsay, Paris (left), Rodin Museum, Paris (right)
Rodin’s The Gates of Hell: National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (left), Kunsthaus Zürich (right)
Auguste Rodin initially conceived this pair of tragic lovers, Paolo and Francesca, for La Porte de l'Enfer (‘The Gates of Hell’), his monumental work representing Dante's Inferno that the French government commissioned from the sculptor in 1880.
Auguste Rodin and The Kiss
First placed on the left panel of the gates, the tender intimacy and romantic bliss of the infatuated couple did not fit with the starkly terrifying image of Hell that Rodin was trying to conjure. As a result, it was removed and became an independent sculpture. The figures of Paolo and Francesca did remain on the gates however, but in the form of two floating spirits.
Marble sculpture of Rodin's The Kiss｜Rodin Museum, Paris
Baiser was initially inspired by an episode in Canto V of Dante's Inferno, from his epic poem, La Divina Commedia. Dante recounted the illicit affair between two lovers from the Middle Ages: Francesca da Rimini and her husband's brother, Paolo Malatesta.
William Dyce’s Francesca da Rimini, 1837
Francesca was a young woman from Ravenna, Italy who married Gianciotto Malatesta, Lord of Rimini in 1275. Francesca, however, fell deeply in love with her husband’s brother, Paolo.
Francisco Díaz Carreño's Francisca de Rímini, 1866
Tragedy soon ensued when Gianciotto discovered his brother and wife together. Enraged by their adulterous liaison, he stabbed them both to death. Rodin chose to depict the erotically charged moment when the couple first realised their desire for one another, and kissed for the first time.
Gustave Doré’s Illustration for Divine Comedy, 1857
Gustave Doré’s The Souls of Paolo and Francesca, 1863
The couple's souls floated in Hell and trapped in an eternity of torment. The couple appeared when Virgil took Dante to the second circle of hell and they discovered all those who have committed ‘sins of the flesh’ floating in the wind. Among them are great figures from antiquity and literature, including Dido, Cleopatra, Achilles, Paris, Tristan, and Helen of Troy, all of whom were condemned for lust.
Joseph Noel Paton's Dante Meditating the Episode of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta,1852
Beside Rodin’s sculpture, the affair of Paolo and Francesca is also an inspiration to the creation of a number of plays, opera, music, paintings and literature.
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Baiser, moyen modèle dit 'Taille de la Porte' - modèle avec base simplifiée.
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
Lot no.: 21B
- Dr Paul Vivier, Paris, a gift from the artist, circa July 1890.
- (Possibly) M. Guibal, Paris, by descent from the above.
- Tiffany & Co., New York.
- Emil Winter, Pittsburgh; his estate sale, Parke Bernett Galleries, New York, 15-17 January 1942, lot 536.
- Willa Ahl Winter, Pittsburgh, by whom possibly acquired at the above sale.
- Harold B. Weinstein, New York, by whom acquired from the above in January 1960, and thence by descent; sale, Christie's, New York, 8 May 2000, lot 26.
- Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Estimate: £5,000,000 - 7,000,000
Price realised: £12,608,750