Elenco manoscritto, Quadri sorici ed allegorici, no. 189, n.d. (Hayez's handwritten inventory of his work), Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Milan
Catalogue d'objets d'art et de curiosité formant la galerie de Mr Mylius de Gènes, Rome, 5 November 1879, p. 20 (as Le Baiser)
Giulio Carotti, ed., Francesco Hayez, Le mie memorie, Milan, 1890, p. 281, mentioned
Sergio Coradeschi, L'opera completa di Hayez, Milan, 1971, no. 313d., listed
Fernando Mazzocca, Francesco Hayez. Catalogo Ragionato, Milan, 1994, p. 336, no. 343 (erroneously illustrated as no. 342 and catalogued with incorrect dimensions)
Il Bacio is both one of the most enduring and poignantly symbolic of images of Italian ottocento painting, drawing on historical and literary references to express not only a timeless romantic vision but the very spirit of Italy itself. Since its creation, the composition has remained an icon of the Italian Risorgimento, the process of unification that consumed the Italian peninsula for most of the nineteenth century and resulted in the birth of a nation in 1861. The embracing couple, with its clear allusions to Shakepeare's Romeo and Juliet or Manzoni's fated Lucia and Renzo, whose love prevails against all odds, becomes the symbol of Italian nationhood, victorious over internal conflict and foreign domination.
The present painting post-dates the earliest, unsigned, version in Milan's Brera Museum by two years. The latter was shown in Milan at the Esposizione Dell'Accademia di Brera in September 1859 at the height of the Risorgimento, three months after the arrival in the city of Vittorio Emanuele II (the future king of a united Italy) and Napoleon III, joint commanders of the Franco-Sardinian Alliance that had expelled the Austrian forces at the Battle of Solferino earlier that year. The painting immediately captured the public's imagination and admiration, conveying as it did the spirit of national hope with its passionate embrace of lovers united. Significantly, in the present version, painted the year unification became reality, Hayez subsitutes the blue dress of the Brera picture for a white one, so that the embracing couple's intertwining costumes form the colours of the Italian tricolore.
Hayez clearly considered Il Bacio as one of his most important compositions, returning to the subject several times after 1859. There are four documented versions: the Brera picture; the present work; a smaller version in a private collection in Turin (Mazzocca no. 344), which was donated by the painter to the family of Carolina Zucchi, his model and lover; and a fourth version measuring 117 by 80 cm. (Mazzocca, no. 342, wrongly illustrated as the present work and with the wrong dimensions), showing the girl wearing a blue dress and with a white drape lying on the steps at the couple's feet, which was offered at Sotheby's New York on 7 May 1998.
Il Bacio is distinguished by its impeccable Mylius family provenance. Enrico Mylius was a prosperous German banker who moved from Frankfurt to Milan in 1792, and became one of the city's foremost patrons of the arts and literature. He was an influential philanthropist who travelled in intellectual circles comprised of leading lights of the day such as Wolfgang Goethe and Alessandro Manzoni. Mylius championed sculptors such as Pompeo Marchesi and Bertel Thorvaldsen, endowed a prize for painting at the Reale Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, and was a lifelong supporter of Francesco Hayez. His descendant, Federico Mylius, who according to Hayez's own inventory manuscript commissioned the present painting, shared Enrico's passion for Hayez's work, and Il Bacio was a prized work in his collection that remained in the Mylius family until its sale in 1973 to the present owner.
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