Like many of Auguste Rodin’s best-known works, the Kiss was initially conceived as part of the Gates of Hell – the artist’s most ambitious sculptural project, which occupied the last thirty-seven years of his life – but was eventually omitted from the final design. The artistic inspiration for the Gates derived from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which depicts the Italian poet’s epic journey through the Underworld. Rodin initially thought the Kiss would have to be the dominating piece of the composition, in place of the Thinker.
The subject of the sculpture is linked to an episode in Dante’s Inferno, where the poet meets Paolo and Francesca, two nobles of Rimini, who shared their first kiss while reading about the Arthurian love story between Lancelot and Guinevere. Tragically, the lovers were discovered by Francesca’s husband, who killed them. The pair descended to hell, damned for their illicit love. The story of Paolo and Francesca has received enormous attention in the History of European Art, and has been depicted by artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Ingres, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Auguste Doré.