BRERA, Francesco Hayez - The Kiss

Audio File length: 2.13
English / USA Language: English / USA

The second-to-last room of the museum has one of the most famous images of 19th century Italian painting, although its creator is certainly not as well-known as the other master painters of the past that you saw in the previous rooms. Yet since its creation, this Kiss by the Venetian painter Francesco Hayez has acquired a huge reputation: who knows how many times you've chanced upon the image, from the movies all the way to boxes of chocolates!

The painting is from 1859, and was made for an exhibition in Brera dedicated to the Risorgimento, which was the long series of wars with which Italy was freed from foreign domination. The exhibition displayed large paintings of battles and glorious scenes, but the most admired painting there was this small painting on canvas with only two figures, which on first glance has nothing to do with the wars of independence! In fact, the funny thing that will surprise you is that the painting was not made to depict a love scene, but only symbolically represent the alliance between two nations, Italy and France, in the Risorgimento wars! Yet it was overwhelmingly successful, even if the painter perhaps never realized it. Just think, his detailed autobiographical memoirs never mention, not even in passing, the Kiss!

If you carefully look at this Romantic image of two lovers overwhelmed by the power of passion, you'll notice that their clothing does not match the painter's time period, but dates back to the medieval period. The strict conventions that dominated art until the second half of the nineteenth century indeed dictated that a love scene set in reality was "unbecoming", and the same was true for novels and opera as well.


FUN FACT: Hayez made other copies of Kiss, changing colors depending on the political period. This one in Brera alludes to the French flag: blue, white, and red. In another version of the painting, the girl's dress is white, which stands for the reunification of Italy. In yet another, the young man has a green coat: the colors of the Italian flag.


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