“So when it was conceived,” Alice began again, “The Kiss was about Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, contemporaries of Dante who appear in his Divine Comedy, in Canto V of his Inferno. While in reality they carried on as lovers for years, in Dante’s Inferno they were surprised one day by Francesca’s husband as they kissed each other for the first time while reading about Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’s first kiss. Francesca’s husband, who was Paolo’s older brother, killed them both, condemning them along with other lustful sinners to the raging storm winds of the second circle of Hell.”
. . .
“I was browsing the other day through Rodin on Art and Artists: Conversations with Paul Gsell,” Alice said, “that Dover edition from 1983 Har gave me for my birthday last year, and it was wonderful to read, in Rodin’s own words, how he looked at Greek Classical art, how much he admired it for the way it answered to both nature and one ideal form or another, for being rooted in close observation of the particular as well as in a quest for the essential. He saw the academic art’s disdain for the truth of the flesh as misguided, leading not to beauty but to cold sculptures, devoid of life. Besides, for Rodin showing beauty meant showing spirit, character.”
Henriette took a drink from her mug. “Yes, the marble version of The Kiss is certainly more than a knickknack. I wonder why he called it that. Did he see it as too decorative—not arresting enough?”
“I think it was his way of saying that his sculpture presented a kiss too superficially, yes. That it didn’t capture enough expressions of deep feelings, that it didn’t do enough to invite the imagination to explore narrative dimensions,” Alice said, basking in the gentle glow of autumnal morning light. “But I think quite the opposite is true. Sustaining this representation of a passionate embrace is the great arc of Rodin’s art, with the transformations his own passion and intellect operate in order to show inner truths: the truth of a kiss withheld for a long time, of passion marrying the tender feelings of love, and of an embrace that tells a story, not least because you can easily see it in motion.”
“In motion?” Henriette asked. “Various poses? Many sculptors did that.”
“Yes, they did,” her sister answered. “In Rodin on Art and Artists Rodin describes how he, too, conceived his figures by putting together fragments of various poses normally seen in sequence, and I think you see here how Paolo and Francesca turn to each other. You see the tightness of his leg muscles under the impact of intense, heart-stopping desire, when she first moves towards him, you see his hand resting gently on her thigh, his arm muscles firm so he doesn’t lay too much weight on her, and then you see him bending his neck to kiss her and abandoning himself to his emotions.”