The concept of love has been one of the most prominent themes depicted in art throughout history. Portrayals of lovers offer fascinating insight into the cultures of various countries, and reflect how perspectives on love have evolved over the centuries. From Peru to Japan and from sweet to sensual, these artful depictions of lovers demonstrate the limitless different forms that love can take.
The Kiss was originally designed to be part of The Gates of Hell, Rodin’s monumental sculptural group work depicting a scene from Dante’s Inferno. This well-known sculpture shows adulterous lovers Paolo and Francesca, who are surprised and killed by Francesca’s husband while sharing their first kiss. Rodin realized that the sensuality of this depiction didn’t fit with the theme of his project, and he transformed the piece into an independent work. Although the eroticism of the sculpture caused controversy when it was first exhibited in 1887, Rodin went on to make three full-scale marble versions of the sculpture, as well as smaller versions in terracotta, bronze, and plaster.
This Edo-period woodblock print by Suzuki Harunobu is both romantic and poignant. A lovely example of polychrome print (nishiki-e), a medium which Harunobu pioneered, the print depicts a couple walking together in the snow. They’re shown in the ai ai gasa pose, which translates to ‘love love umbrella’ (referring to a couple sharing an umbrella). The tranquility of the scene quietly illustrates the Japanese aesthetic of wabi, the beauty of simplicity and stillness.
This oil painting created by Pierre-Auguste Cot in 1873 was one of the artist’s most successful works, later reproduced on tapestries, fans, engravings, and porcelains. An enchanting depiction of young love, the work shows a couple gazing devotedly at one another as the young woman embraces the man. The couple is depicted surrounded by symbols of the newness of spring, including flowers, water, and butterflies. The painting is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Photographer Robert Doisneau is known for his photos capturing everyday Parisian life, but the Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville is easily his most famous image. This black-and-white photograph taken in 1950 depicts a couple in the middle of a dreamy kiss, with pedestrians moving indifferently around them. The identity of the couple remained unknown for decades until a couple who thought it was them sued for royalties in the 1990s. Doisneau revealed the photo was a staged shot between aspiring actress Françoise Bornet and her boyfriend, Jacques Carteaud. Despite being staged, the photo continues to be an iconic image of both love as well as the romance of Paris.
El Beso (The Kiss) is an enormous statue of a couple engaged in a passionate kiss. This red statue is set in Parque del Amor (Love Park), a small park in Lima’s Miraflores district. The park and statue were both inaugurated on Valentine’s Day in 1993. The man and woman depicted in the statue are said to be the artist, Peruvian sculptor Victor Delfín, and his wife. The statue and surrounding park are popular spots for local couples to canoodle.
This beguiling 1892 painting depicts two women embracing in bed. Toulouse-Lautrec painted a number of other couples in bed, but supposedly described this scene as ‘the very epitome of sensual delight.’ The painting’s bright reds and yellows balance delicately with cooler shades of green, blue, and gray. The couple is captured holding one another closely, as if they don’t want to be separated from one another.
This 13th-century ferruginous stone carving depicts a couple gazing deeply into one another’s eyes. Displayed in the Indian Medieval Sculpture Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the carving was once part of a temple in Orissa, a region in northeast India. Their full bodies and intricate features are characteristic of architectural sculptures produced during this time period. In addition to being a depiction of love, the statue is also believed to represent humanity’s desire to connect with the divine.
The story of Cupid and Psyche is among the most celebrated classical myths, and a popular subject for artists in the neoclassical period. According to the story, Venus instructed Psyche to bring back a flask from the Underworld, telling her not to open it. Unable to contain her curiosity, Psyche opens the flask and the fumes send her into a death-like sleep. The sculpture depicts the moment after Cupid has awakened Psyche with a kiss. Created in 1793, the sculpture is displayed at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
Love is is an ongoing series by South Korean artist Puuung, featuring charming illustrations of a young couple in love. The illustrations demonstrate that true love is often defined by seemingly unremarkable shared moments, rather than dramatic gestures. The couple is shown cooking dinner together, watching movies, kissing one another on the forehead, and sharing other common experiences of happiness, sorrow, and peace together in their everyday lives.
This well-loved work by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt depicts an embracing couple. The Kiss is a departure from Klimt’s other paintings, which mainly focused on women. Some art historians believe the couple portrayed here are Klimt himself and his long-time partner, Emilie Flöge. It’s a characteristic example of Klimt’s golden period style, during which he mixed gold leaf into his oil paints. The painting can be seen today at Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna.
LiTer II is a photograph from the solo exhibition, MO(U)RNING, presented by photographer Zanele Muholi. Muholi’s work mainly focuses on the lives of African lesbians, with the aim of giving a voice to this often-overlooked community, in addition to raising awareness of homophobic violence. In 2012, Muholi’s Cape Town apartment was robbed in what appeared to be an attack against her activism. Although a large portion of her photographs, videos, and text were lost, this expressive image was among the material that remained.
Pierre Auguste Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, was the model for the woman depicted in this 1883 oil on canvas painting. The dancing couple in the scene is shown with a messy table behind them, while the man’s hat seems to have been dropped on the floor beside them. These small touches create the impression that the couple is completely lost in the music and one another. The painting was designed as a pair with Danse à la ville (City Dance), which further emphasizes the light-heartedness of the country dancers through its contrast with the more restrained city dancers.