Ten highly erotic art history kisses, from the 16th century to the 20th century

July 6, Kiss Day: here are ten highly erotic kisses in art history. From the 16th century to the 20th century.

July 6 has been universally recognized as “Kiss Day,” and all newspapers and sites offer their good “top ten” of the ten most beautiful kisses in art history: all a flourish of Hayez, Klimt, Rodin, Giotto and so on. We wanted to do something different: ten kisses in art history, yes, but with a high erotic rate. From the 16th century to the 20th century. Happy reading!

1. Agostino Veneziano (attributed), Position 1, from the Ways of Marcantonio Raimondi (1526-1540; engraving, 132 x 184 mm; London, British Museum)
“Fuck us, my soul, fuck us soon / for all for notter born we are; / and if you the cock adore, I the potta love, / and saria the world a cock without this.” This is the eloquent incipit of Pietro Aretino’s Lustful Sonnets, written in 1524 to comment on a series of sixteen drawings by Giulio Romano depicting various erotic positions (or “modes,” so much so that the original title of Aretino’s work is Sonetti sopra i XVI modi). Nothing survives of Giulio Romano’s series today, but prints were made of them by Marcantonio Raimondi: they had a wide circulation (clandestine, of course), and for some time Raimondi was even imprisoned for his work (he managed to get out of jail only thanks to his influential friendships). Unfortunately, Raimondi’s series also survives piecemeal, and of the first position, with the man and woman lying on their sides, we are left with nothing but copies.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/agostino-veneziano-posizione-1.jpg ’ alt=“Agostino Veneziano (attributed), Position 1 ” title=“Agostino Veneziano (attributed), Position 1 ” /><figcaption>Agostino Veneziano (attributed), <em>Position 1</em></figcaption></figure> <p><strong>2. <a href=“https://www.finestresullarte.info/art-base/bronzino-vita-opere-grand-ritratto-manierista”>Bronzino</a>, <em>Allegory of the Triumph of Venus</em> (c. 1545; oil on panel, 146 x 116 cm; London, National Gallery)</strong><br />TheAllegory of the Triumph of Venus, one of the most disturbing paintings of the 16th century, was made by Bronzino (Florence, 1503 - 1572), court painter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, as a diplomatic gift: Indeed, Cosimo sent it to Francis I of France to ingratiate himself, as an ally, with the powerful ruler. After alternate passages it is now in the National Gallery in London, and is known for the distinct sensuality of the goddess Venus, whose naked body is offered without any filter to the viewer. The goddess of love is exchanging a passionate kiss with her son Cupid: however, we can easily see that the goddess is drawing an arrow from her son’s quiver, and he, while touching her breast with one hand, is slipping off her diadem with the other. This detail has been interpreted as an allusion to the deceptive nature of love. It is perhaps the most typical example of the kind of painting that the powerful of the time liked to hang in the secrecy of their rooms, away from prying eyes.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/bronzino-allegoria.jpg ’ alt=“Bronzino, Allegory of the Triumph of Venus ” title=“Bronzino, Allegory of the Triumph of Venus ” /><figcaption>Bronzino, <em>Allegory of the Triumph of Venus</em></figcaption></figure> <p><strong>3. Joachim Wtewael, <em>Venus and Adonis</em> (c. 1607-1610; oil on panel, 36 x 48 cm; Vienna, Collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, on permanent loan from the Hohenbuchau Collection)</strong><br /> Joachim Wtewael (Utrecht, c. 1566 - 1638), a Dutchman, lived through much of the seventeenth century but his painting is still tied to sixteenth-century culture. His painting Venus and Adonis is no exception, allowing him to tackle a subject that figures among the great “classics” of eroticism of all time. The foreshadowing of later events here is far removed (we see Adonis lying on the ground in the background), all the focus is on the main episode where Venus, beautiful, indulges completely naked in a passionate kiss with her lover, with the approval of her son Cupid, who is responsible for their love.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/joachim-wtewael-venere-e-adone.jpg ’ alt=“Joachim Wtewael, Venus and Adonis” title=“Joachim Wtewael, Venus and Adonis”/><figcaption>Joachim Wtewael, <em>Venus and Adonis</em></figcaption></figure> <p><strong>4. François Boucher, <em>Hercules and Onphale</em> (c. 1730; oil on canvas, 90 x 74 cm; Moscow, Pushkin Museum)</strong><br />François Boucher (Paris, 1703 - 1770) was one of the most licentious artists of the Rococo, and his art abounds with sensual nudes. The kiss between Hercules and Onphale, taken from Greek mythology, tells of one of the “intimate” moments between the couple: according to the myth, Hercules became a slave of Onphale, queen of Lydia, and would be freed by her only after marrying her (and again according to the myth, the two would beget five children). The work once belonged to the collector Pierre Paul Louis Randon de Boisset and is extremely illustrative of the kind of painting that the eighteenth-century French artistocracy loved: frivolous works, with abundant nudes, and with not even too much implied eroticism (see how Hercules clutches Onphale’s breasts). After several passages and sales the work arrived in Russia and is now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/francois-boucher-ercole-e-onfale.jpg ’ alt=“François Boucher, Hercules and Onphale ” title=“François Boucher, Hercules and Onphale ” /><figcaption>François Boucher, <em>Hercules and Onphale</em></figcaption></figure> <p><strong>5. Katshushika Hokusai, <em>Eerotic Scenes</em>, from the album Ehon tsui no hinagata (c. 1812; woodcut, 25.3 x 18.5 cm; Various Locations)
We all know Katsushika Hokusai (Edo, 1760 - 1849) for his Wave, but probably not everyone knows that Hokusai was also a great erotic artist, and his output is full of couples joining in carnal relations that leave nothing to the imagination. Relationships that, moreover, are often mercenary. In Japan, erotic images were known as shunga, often had comic or praodic intentions, and spared no social class (there was, however, a prohibition against depicting the nobility, but to get around this, artists resorted to a wide range of symbolic elements). Shunga works, however, more often than not had no specific purpose: they simply served to entertain.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/hokusai-ehon-tsui.jpg ’ alt=“Katshushika Hokusai, Erotic Scenes ” title=“Katshushika Hokusai, Erotic Scenes ” /><figcaption>Katshushika Hokusai, <em>Eerotic Scenes</em> </figcaption></figure> <p><strong>6. <a href=“https://www.finestresullarte.info/arte-base/francesco-hayez-vita-opere-pittore-romanticismo-italiano”>Francesco Hayez</a>, <em>Eerotic Drawings</em> (1822-1830; pencil on paper, 16.8 x 22.3 cm; Private collection)</strong><br /> In a sense, the erotic sheets executed by Francesco Hayez (Venice, 1791 - Milan, 1882) between 1822 and 1830 represent the perfect counterbalance to his stereotypical image of the chaste, romantic painter of <em>The Kiss</em> and similar paintings. On the contrary, Hayez had a very passionate character, which emerges in all its fierceness from the drawings in which he self-portrays himself in various amplexes with his model and lover Carolina Zucchi. The one presented here is not really a kiss in the conventional sense: we can imagine it as a kiss given to another part of the body. And Carolina Zucchi would not shy away from praising the painter’s amatory skills in her private memoirs.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/francesco-hayez-disegno-erotico.jpg ’ alt=“Francesco Hayez, Erotic Drawing ” title=“Francesco Hayez, Erotic Drawing ” /><figcaption>Francesco Hayez, <em>Eerotic Drawing</em> </figcaption></figure> <p><strong>7. <a href=“https://www.finestresullarte.info/art-base/edvard-munch-life-opera-genio-scandinavo”>Edvard Munch</a>, <em>The Kiss</em> (1895; etching, 343 x 273 mm; Bremen, Kunsthalle)</strong><br /> <em>The Kiss</em> is one of the works from which the concept of love according to Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (Løten, 1863 - Oslo, 1944) best emerges: much more famous than this printed version preserved in Bremen, however, is the version made in oil on canvas in 1897 and now in the Munch Museum in Oslo, where the couple appears clothed. In the Bremen version, however, the couple is naked, which helps to reinforce Munch’s message: the lovers are one, so much so that their bodies (but even more so their faces) merge into a single entity. It follows that it is impossible to separate the two figures, although, according to the ambivalences typical of Munch’s poetics, fusion into a single subject can also mean loss of one’s identity (so much so that the connotations of the two characters are unrecognizable), abstraction from what is happening in the outside world, or even unraveling of one of the two (the writer August Strindberg observed that one of the two characters seems to want to devour the other).

Edvard Munch, Il bacio
Edvard Munch, Il bacio

8. Egon Schiele, Due donne che si abbracciano (1915; matita, acquerello e gouache su carta, 485 x 327 mm; Budapest, Szempuveszeti Muzeum)
Quest’opera di Egon Schiele (Tulln an der Donau, 1890 - Vienna, 1918) fu acquistata dal museo di Budapest subito dopo la realizzazione, su proposta della Galleria Arnot di Vienna. Nel 1914 Schiele si era spostato con una sua modella, Edith Harms, e in questo periodo della sua carriera si intensifica la produzione di dipinti e disegni con coppie di amanti. Ma per Schiele l’amore non doveva conoscere limiti: per questo, la sua produzione abbonda di coppie di ogni tipo impegnate in amplessi più o meno espliciti. Le coppie lesbiche fanno la comparsa nella sua arte nel 1911 (probabilmente, Schiele trasse notevoli spunti dall’arte di Toulouse-Lautrec, che conosceva bene), e questa, vista dall’alto in un bacio sensualissimo che lascia ben intendere il prosieguo dell’incontro tra le due donne, è una dei migliori esempi. Non è però un amplesso sereno: lo sguardo della donna che riceve il bacio sembra quasi assente e malinconico. E probabilmente tradisce le angosce che l’artista viveva negli anni più tormentati della sua esistenza.

Egon Schiele, Due donne che si abbracciano
Egon Schiele, Two Women Embracing

9. Jind&rcaron;ich Štýrský, Emilie ke mn&ecaron; p&rcaron;ichází ve snu (1933; silver salt gelatin print, 24 x 18 cm; Paris, Centre Pompidou)

Emilie ke mn&ecaron; p&rcaron;ichází ve snu (i.e., “Emilie comes to me in a dream”) is probably the best-known work by Czech surrealist í Jind&rcaron;ich Štýrský (Dolní &Ccaron;ermná, 1899 - Prague, 1942): is a series of photomontages with erotic subject matter describing a dream amid hallucinated visions, with bizarre associations typical of Surrealist practice. The photographs are taken from pornographic magazines of the time, and the Czech artist’s intent is to present sex as a purely physical act: kissing consequently has nothing romantic about it, but is merely a moment of intercourse.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2018/983/jindrich-styrsky-emilie-vient-a-moi-en-reve.jpg ’ alt=“Jind&rcaron;ich Štýrský, Emilie ke mn&ecaron; p&rcaron;ichází ve snu ” title=“Jind&rcaron;ich Štýrský, Emilie ke mn&ecaron; p&rcaron;ichází ve snu ” /><figcaption>Jind&rcaron;ich Štýrský, <em>Emilie ke mn&ecaron; p&rcaron;ichází ve snu</em></figcaption></figure> <p><strong>10. Robert Mapplethorpe, <em>Marty and Veronica</em> (1982; silver gelatin print, 38.6 x 38.5 cm; Various locations)
The Marty and Veronica series by Robert Mapplethorpe (New York, 1946 - Boston, 1989) is one of the most unique of those made by the American photographer. The protagonists are the actress (and now writer) Veronica Vera and a black man, Marty, captured in several shots depicting intercourse in different stages (the photo with the kiss between the two is the initial one and soon the relationship evolves in an increasingly explicit way, with fellatio, cunnilingus, penetration and whatnot). Singular, because sexual intercourse is not a frequent subject in Mapplethorpe’s photography, and here it is resolved in a highly aestheticizing, almost unnatural way, as was typical of the artist’s poetics.

<img class="lazy" src="https://www.finestresullarte.info/Grafica/placeholder.jpg" data-src=https://cdn.finestresullarte.info/rivista/immagini/2019/1098/robert-mapplethorpe-marty-and-veronica.jpg ' alt="Robert Mapplethorpe, Marty and Veronica " title="Robert Mapplethorpe, Marty and Veronica " /><figcaption>Robert Mapplethorpe, <em>Marty and Veronica</em></figcaption></figure>

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