“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Rumi wrote these lines to capture the platonic love that a devotee shares with his/her god. But these are equally applicable for lovers, as they interact formally, passionately and in comfort.
Separated by physical distance, lovers always find ways to be with each other. Therefore, it is no wonder that lovers throughout art history have been depicted sharing an intimate proximity. Be a sensual cuddle, a passionate kiss or a gentle touch, lovers in paintings share a warm experience.
This Valentine’s Day Art Fervour presents you five lovers from across the art history who have been “in each other all along.”
1. The Arnolfini Portrait
Image Credits- Wikipedia
The Arnolfini Portrait, one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Jan van Eyck, depicts a couple holding hands in the center of the room. The man is very gently holding the back of the lady’s hand. Since the couple is shown wearing expensive clothes, many art critics believe that this is a marriage portrait commissioned as a proof for the marriage ceremony. The painting is signed as “Jan van Eyck was here”, which further affirms the painting’s purpose of documenting the marriage. But whatever may have been the reason for the painting, the gentle touch that the couple shares becomes the focus of the artwork.
You can also read Paul Durcan’s heartwarming poem “The Arnolfini Marriage”, based on this painting.
2. Roman de la Rose
Image Credits- Tate
Roman de la Rose is a watercolour by Dante Gabriel Rossetti which was inspired from a 13th century allegorical dream poem of the same name. From the very beginning Rossetti was drawn to the sister arts of poetry and painting, and the synthesis of the two became an integral aspect of his works. In this particular painting, he shows the blissful lovers lost in passionate kiss, sheltered under an angel’s wing. The lack of depth and the rich ornamentations depicted in this artwork have been borrowed from illustrated mediaeval manuscripts that Rossetti must have viewed in the British Museum. Rose, an important symbol in the literary work, is shown in the top right corner of the painting with the title of the work. The primary essence of the painting is contained in the soft, rose like, kiss that the lovers share.
3. In bed the Kiss
Image Credits- Joys of Museum
In bed the kiss is a 1892 oil painting by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec that features two women in bed passionately kissing each other. The painting is done in a post-impressionism style to capture the intensity of the moment in rough brush strokes. In the 1890s Lautrec became fascinated by the nightlife of Paris and spent most of his time capturing the scenes from daily life at the brothels on his canvas. He was commissioned to produce paintings for the salon room at a brothel on rue d’Amboise and this painting is a part of the series of sixteen portraits of prostitutes he made. The intimacy depicted in this artwork results from a close and intimate compassion towards the subjects. Lautrec does not fetishise the sexual intimacy between the women and rather captures it with love. The painting tries to sensitively portray small, tender moments that these lovers share, without any voyeurism.
4. Urvashi and Pururavas
Image Credits- WikiArt
Urvashi and Pururavas is a painting by Raja Ravi Varma that depicts the tragic ending of a mythological love story. Raja Ravi Varma was famous for painting scenes from Indian mythology in an academic style, influenced from the European academies of art. This particular artwork captures the exact moment from the myth when Urvashi decides to leave Pururavas and return to the celestial adobe. We can see in the painting Pururavas stretches his hand as he tries to hold the end of Urvashi’s garments, entreating her for the one last time not to abandon him. This delicate gesture exchanged between the lovers becomes the last goodbyes they say to each other.
5. Slow Dance
Image Credits- Smart Museum
Slow Dance is a painting done in mixed media by American artist Kerry James Marshall. The painting depicts a working class African American couple dancing slowly in the centre of a living room. The notes emitting from the stereo are shown in the top half of the painting. As the couple dances across the room the lady very gently rests her head on the man’s shoulder. This moment of comfort and familiarity that these lovers experience becomes the essence of contemporary romance. The low key interior and the informal clothing further suggest that the painting is an anecdote taken from the stories of our lives.
These paintings capture different shades of the intimate recesses that lovers share. From a very gentle touch in a highly formalised setting, to the comfort of resting your head on your lover’s shoulder amidst the chaos of the small apartment, artists over the centuries have depicted lovers in myriad ways. It may be a passionate kiss or the dispirited goodbye, lovers on canvas had appeared in all different colours and hues.
If you are interested in reading more about pairs, have a look at our blog Two Heads Are Better Than One: Celebrating Duos in Art or take a look at our editorial section to know more about the art world.