Happy Valentine’s Day to all. I admit I was never a fan of Valentine’s Day, thinking it seemed like a cheesy and forced way to express one’s love. But then I realized that Valentine’s Day can be about all kinds of love. Love for friends and family as well as the big love of your life.
But in this post, I am going to focus on big romantic love and how Italian artists portrayed that love through paintings and sculpture.
Il Bacio (The Kiss) by Francesco Hayez, 1869 Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
This painting shows a couple embraced in a passionate and intense kiss. There is a feeling that maybe this is a forbidden kiss, which gives real power to the scene and pulls the viewer in wondering what will happen next. Will they get caught? Will they run away together? Romance on every level!
Fun fact: the chocolate company, Perugina who makes “Baci” chocolates used this image on their boxes in the 1920s.
Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova, 1793 and 1796, Louvre, Paris and Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
There are actually two versions of this sculpture depicting the mythological lovers, Cupid and Psyche. The first version can be found in the Louvre and the second in the Hermitage in Russia. I admit I have been lucky enough to see them both, and both times I was completely taken aback by the beauty and emotion these sculptures convey. They do the story of Cupid and Psyche justice. That crazy myth is just like a modern-day love story, full of jealousy, betrayal and anger – but in the end – love triumphs.
The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, 1504, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
This painting by high Renaissance artist Raphael shows the marriage of Mary and Joseph – the ultimate dedicated couple. This piece was originally supposed to be painted by Raphael’s teacher, Pietro Perugino, but in his absence, Raphael took the project on himself, which worked out well as it became one of his most famous works. It kind of reminds me of the Oscars. You know – when an actress wins the Oscar for a part other actresses passed up? This masterpiece is kind of like that.
This work has also had many homes. It was originally painted for the church of San Francesco in Citta’ di Castello, a town near Perugia, Umbria. After hundreds of years and a few sales, it eventually made its home in Milan, first in a hospital! Then finally at the Pinacoteca.
Fun fact: so moved was composer Liszt by Raphael’s work, he wrote Sposalizio, a piece for piano.
Jupiter and Io by Antonio da Correggio, 1533, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Another couple taken from mythology, this painting depicts the story of Jupiter’s seduction of the nymph, Io. Jupiter would often seduce in disguise in order to keep from being caught by his jealous wife, Juno. In this case, he takes the form of a storm cloud. Love the stories from Mythology! Full of all human emotion as it relates to love.
Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli, 1483, National Gallery, London
The original, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” by Botticelli painted in the 1400’s. Most people only associate Venus with Botticelli and maybe don’t even realize he also painted Venus with Mars. I love this piece because for me it portrays real couples, even 500 years later. This painting represents a big part of real love to me – not only Hayez’s fab kiss from above that is all about romance. This work shows that love is not always roses and champagne. Look at Venus’ face watching super relaxed and naked Mars sleeping away. Ha, ha, ha! She looks so annoyed with him. Fantastic! So true to life. Let’s face it – sharing a life with someone is not easy! But I guess if you are lucky enough to find someone to kiss you like in Hayez’s painting, you will make it through the times your love is driving you crazy as in Botticelli’s work.