This painting depicts a medieval couple kissing each other as they embrace, and it is one of the most passionate kisses in Western art history. In the painting, the girl leans back, and the man bends his left leg to support her, placing his other foot on the step next to him as if ready to leave. The couple is in the center of the painting, but their faces are unrecognizable, as Francesco Hayez wanted the kiss to be in the center of the composition.
The painting shows more than just a passionate kiss. On a deeper level, the painting symbolizes the romantic, nationalistic and patriotic ideals of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, an act that merged the different countries of the Italian peninsula into one nation, the Kingdom of Italy. Several graphic elements illustrate this.
The impending farewell between the lovers is represented by the man's feet temporarily resting on the steps, his lover holding him tightly. It represents the necessity of his departure and indicates patriotism's danger. Other elements include the dagger hidden in the cloak, which symbolizes the impending rebellion against the Habsburg invaders, and the date of the painting, 1859, the year of the Second Italian War of Independence.
The Congress of Vienna, which was convened in 1815, redrew the map of Europe following Napoleon's defeat in France in the 19th century. Italy was divided into several states, insignificant compared to other European nations. Each state was directly under the rule of or influenced by the Habsburgs of the Austrian Empire. This division ran counter to the growing sentiment of nationalist unity in Italy and led to the birth of various secret societies of democratic radical tendencies, such as the Carboneria and Young Italy. Although these associations were not successful, their role was crucial to public opinion.
In 1848, the first war of Italian independence ended in defeat, but in 1859 a secret agreement signed by Napoleon III and Camillo Benso approved the creation of an anti-Austrian alliance. The coalition in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto was able to defeat the Austrian army, making France's involvement essential. Following that victory, which started the unification process, the Kingdom of Italy was established in 1861.
The Kiss was painted by Francesco Hayez around that time. Aware of the deadly suppression of the nationalist movement, Hayez decided to portray historical facts while hiding ideals of conspiracy and the struggle against the invaders. By adopting an ambiguous and opaque communication scheme, he managed to escape the censorship measures of the authorities effectively.