Baiser portrays the ill-fated lovers from Dante's Divine Comedy, Paolo and Francesca, who were murdered by Francesca's husband and Paolo's brother, Gianciotto Malatesta, lord of Rimini, who caught them as they shared their first kiss. Banished to the second circle of hell for their adulterous passion, the two lovers were doomed to spend eternity in an embrace. Among the love stories in Dante's Divine Comedy, this forbidden liaison, so reminiscent of courtly love, had the greatest resonance for a late nineteenth century audience, and was reinterpreted by many artists including Ingres, Delacroix and Alexandre Cabanel.
Baiser was originally intended for the left side of La Porte de l'Enfer, but was never included as Rodin felt the work - being an embodiment of absolute happiness - lacked the tragic mood the project required. Instead he chose to exhibit the sculpture separately at the Galeries Georges Petit and at the Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and it quickly became one of Rodin's signature works. The French government commissioned a marble version in 1888, and after the work was exhibited at the Paris Salon that same year to glowing reviews, the Barbedienne foundry cast bronze editions in four different sizes between 1898 and 1918, the largest being 71.4 cm. The present cast was acquired by Dr. Georges Emile Duval in 1913, and has remained in the same family to the present day.
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