Picture “Kiss” (Il Bacio), written in 1859 - the most replicated work of Francesco Aieza and a real icon of Italian painting. It reflects the main features of Italian romanticism and conveys the spirit of the Risorgimento - the national liberation movement for the unification of fragmented Italy. This process took place during most of the XIX century and led to the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
The main characters of the picture are a reference to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or Lucia and Renzo from the novel “The Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni. In this historical work, the love of a young couple becomes a symbol of Italian statehood, which triumphed over internal conflicts and foreign domination.
The theme of the kiss appeared at the beginning of the career of Francesco Aieza - in 1823 he set "The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet". The passion of the characters depicted on the canvas caused a real stir among the public: Romeo hugs Juliet's waist and pulls her closer to her. This is strikingly different from the more chaste early images of kissing in art. “Kiss” was even more courageous and passionate: a man simultaneously caresses the face of his beloved, holding her nape.
Why is this work perceived as patriotic? After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Congress of Vienna was held, whose members attempted to redraw the map of Europe. Italy once again wanted to make the "quilt", which she was before the Napoleonic wars - the constellation of independent states under the influence of other major powers such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. One of the political images that can be seen in the Kiss is a young Italian soldier kissing his beloved before going into battle for Italy against the aggressors.
Another allegory is the political coalition between Italy and France in the struggle against Austria, which severely suppressed nationalist sentiments on the Apennine Peninsula. Napoleon III became an ally of the Italians, whose help was recognized as decisive. So the picture can be viewed as a symbol of the alliance of these two countries. The young man, dressed in green and red, represents the colors of the Italian flag, and the blue dress of the girl against the background of his red tights symbolizes the banner of France. On one of the variants of the painting, which Ayets wrote later, girl dressed in white, on the other next to the lovers lies white cloth - This color is common to the flags of both countries.
All in all, Ayec wrote five documented versions of “Kiss” - four oil paintings and one watercolor. The original ordered Alfonso Maria Visconti di Salichento. The canvas was exhibited at Pinacotec de Brera in 1859, a few months after the entry of the first Italian king, Victor Emmanuel II and the French emperor Napoleon III to Milan. But the work came to the gallery collection only in 1886.
All copies of the picture differ in size, architectural details, the color of the heroine's dress and white cloth on the steps next to the pair. Watercolor - an oval, made in 1859 - today is in the collection of the Ambrosian Library in Milan.
The artist created a version with a veil on the steps for himself. He sent the canvas to the World Exhibition in Paris in 1867, where it was bought by the Russian Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, the younger brother of the future Russian Emperor Alexander III and the uncle of Nicholas II. The work was inherited by his descendants, and in 2016 it was sold at Christie's for 1 million 865 thousand US dollars.
There are two more versions of The Kiss in private collections. One of them - with a girl in a white dress - was put up for auction at Sotheby's in 2008, where it was bought for 1 million 207 thousand dollars.
Francesco Hayez's work has been cited many times in consumer and popular culture. In the 1920s, Perugina, one of the leading Italian chocolate makers, developed the packaging for Baci sweets. In 1954, the great Italian director Luchino Visconti repeated the composition in one of the episodes of the film "Feeling". The image of "The Kiss" is present in the painting by Girolamo Induno "Sad Foreboding" (1862).