Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Wednesday 23rd December - The Best Kisses in the World

 Well, today is the last of the pictures for Snogvent as tomorrow I will bring you a ghost story, inspired by a picture, but we'll talk about that later. I've saved one of my favourite kissing paintings until last - actually two of my favourites.  Let's start with one of the most beautiful paintings ever created...

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs (1864) Frederic William Burton

 I mean, heavens, what a truly beautiful painting - his blue leg-wraps match her frock, he's all silvery and she's all golden, and he's kissing her sleeve! Her sleeve! Dear God, that's so weirdly romantic.  If you don't know the story, the couple are Hellelil, who falls in love with her personal guard, Hildebrand. Obviously such a lovely painting does not have a happy ending, all stabby and miserable, yet here we are with the couple sharing a very chaste kiss indeed on a spiral staircase.  I think it's the fact that they are framed so close to us, and are sharing a stolen moment of romance that endears the image to so many.  However, I did say right at the beginning of Snogvent that only face-kissing was allowed, so sadly, despite being one of the swoon-worthiest paintings in the whole world, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs is not my final painting (although it should be); that honour goes to this one...

The Kiss (1859) Francesco Hayez

 Again we have snogging by some stairs, but it looks like our chap was about to go up them when he remembered he had to kiss a lady. While this kiss has no context or backstory, unlike The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, there is a figure lurking on the left hand side (you know how I love a lurker) hinting that this romantic moment is possibly not all it seems and will not end well.  Who are they? Why is our chap looking like he wants to run, with his foot already going up the stair? Why is her dress so shiny?

That's proper spaniel-shiny and actually reminded me of this picture...

The Black Brunswicker (1860) John Everett Millais

The satin! Blimey, it's all a bit shiny.  I wonder if Millais knew of the Hayez or if there was just a massive love of satin in art? I should really do a post about the best satin in the 19th century, because it really does make a picture extra special. Well, there was no snogging for our poor Black Brunswicker as he galloped off to die pointlessly on a snowy field somewhere, but at least he looked sexy in his black uniform.  Also Katie Dickens, who is entreating him not to leave, never even met the handsome soldier she is pressed against, as Millais posed them separately with wooden mannequins. The handsome soldier apparently died shortly afterwards which is absolutely appropriate. Well done Doomed Soldier.

 So, what is it about Hayez image that is so appealing and causes Wikipedia to extravagantly declare it 'among the most passionate and intense representations of a kiss in the history of Western art'?  I'm not sure I entirely agree with that claim, for me the sleeve-snogging in a turret is more moving as it seems sort of hopeless, and we all know how that will end.  Is the threat of something lurking behind Hayez's couple what makes their kiss so special? Why do we find tragedy so bloody romantic?

 'Hey girl, you're pretty, fancy some orange? I'm sure no-one will murder me for it...'

'Hey girl, fancy a snog? I'm sure we won't have to top ourselves in an alarming mix up later...'

'Hey girl, pucker up as I'm sure my brother/your husband won't see us and stab us both to death...'

Do we love these pictures because they absolutely sum up how fleeting love is? That intense, mad whirlwind of love that catches your breath and makes you slightly unhinged doesn't last, and although we adore it, we recognise how deliciously selfish it makes us.  This is love that burns out and we see it and vicariously wallow in it but probably do not wish to be on the sharp, pointy end of it, when all is said and done.  However, as a tourist destination, doomed love is a cracking place to visit.  I want my sleeve kissed on a stairway! I want to drop my book in a moment of passion! I want a hot bloke to offer me an orange! However, on the whole, I don't need all the bloodshed and familial murdering so I'm happy just to look at the pictures and be grateful for the non-murderous kisses that I get.

I'll see you tomorrow with a dark and spooky ghost story which might be a little on the grim side...


  1. Glorious choice of kisses, the Hayez is especially passionate because of the reciprocity of their holding of each other, ladies tended to be more passive in art then - those hands! The shinyness of the dresses in the Hayez and Millais paintings just goes to show how much we have benefitted from steam irons since the 19th century - those creases! Great snogs - thank you. Lookng forward to the ghosts ...

  2. I think my fave doomed love snog picture has got to be Rossetti's Paola and Francesca. So gloriously tragic! Just think, doomed to a life in hell due to that kiss (and getting offed amid it).


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