Nineteenth-century viewers and critics were immediately taken with Rodin's three-dimensional group, entitled Paola and Francesca, the passionate lovers from the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno. When one enthusiastic critic referred to it as The Kiss, the new title stuck, and the association with Dante's ill-fated lovers gave way to a more contemporary, universal response to their passionate embrace.
By including only one specific reference to the lovers' story (Paolo holds in his left hand the book of courtly love they read together), Rodin encouraged viewers to become immersed in the spiraling rhythms of the entwined bodies and the sensuous finish of smooth limbs against pitted rock.
Rodin had intended to include this work in his monumental Gates of Hell, the high-relief sculptural doors that he would cover with figures from Dante's Divine Comedy. But the sculptor removed the pair of lovers from the Gates, instead developing it as an independent grouping. The original bronze sculpture (almost three feet high) was reproduced in bronze and marble, in both enlarged and reduced versions. The National Gallery's diminutive golden bronze work (under ten inches) is one of sixty-nine versions of this size. In 1902 Rodin presented it as a souvenir to a loyal American patron, Kate Simpson, after she posed for her portrait bust in the sculptor's Paris studio. It bears his personal inscription: "homage to Madame Kate Simpson in memory of hours in the studio. September 1902."
model 1880-1887, cast c. 1898/1902
DIMENSIONS: 24.7 x 15.8 x 17.4 cm (9 3/4 x 6 1/4 x 6 7/8 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Gift of Mrs. John W. Simpson
ACCESSION NUMBER: 1942.5.15