The Kiss (Hayez)

The Kiss
El Beso (Pinacoteca de Brera, Milán, 1859).jpg
ArtistFrancesco Hayez
Year1859
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions110 cm × 88 cm (43 in × 35 in)
LocationPinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Il bacio (Italian pronunciation: [il ˈbaːtʃo]; The Kiss) is an 1859 painting by the Italian artist Francesco Hayez. It is possibly his best known work. This painting conveys the main features of Italian Romanticism and has come to represent the spirit of the Risorgimento. It was commissioned by Alfonso Maria Visconti di Saliceto, who donated it to the Pinacoteca di Brera after his death.[1]

Historical context

After the defeat of Napoleonic France in the 19th century, the Congress of Vienna was held in 1815 to redraw the map of Europe. Italy had a very marginal role compared to other European countries and was slated to be divided into several states. Every state was either ruled directly by or strongly influenced by the Habsburgs of the Austrian Empire. This fragmentation went against the growing nationalist sentiment for Italy's unification and caused the creation of secret societies with democratic-radical orientations, like the Carboneria and Young Italy. Although these associations were unsuccessful, their role was fundamental in shaping public opinion.

The first war of Italian independence (1848) was a failure, but by 1859 the secret agreement between Napoleon III and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour stipulated the formation of an anti-Austrian alliance. The contribution of France was considered crucial, as the Austrian armies were defeated by the alliance in the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia. This victory initiated the unification process: the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed a few years later, in 1861.

It was during this period that Francesco Hayez painted his Kiss. Mindful of the bloody repression of the nationalist movement, the artist decided to disguise the ideals of conspiracy and the struggle against the invaders under a representation of past events. Through the adoption of ambiguous, opaque communication schemes, the artist succeeded in effectively escaping the censorship measures implemented by the authorities.