Francesco Hayez: the romantic revolutionary with the hidden message

The greatest painter of Italian historical Romanticism of the XIX century

Hayez is known especially for “The Kiss“, picture that, like many of his works “encrypted”, behind sentimental atmosphere, has a hidden message: the passionate kiss in a medieval setting, alludes to a contemporary meaning: a patriot, a sword at his side, is leaving for the war against the Austrians. And, since it was not possible to represent scenes of this kind, Hayez decided to “camouflage” his paintings, transposing them into the past. In the two other versions that he painted of the same subject, he exalted with the colors of the clothes of lovers, the Italian and the French flag.

The three versions of “The Kiss”, from left to right: 1859, 1861, 1867.

In the third version, the painting alludes even more clearly to the celebration of the alliance between France and Italy; in fact, the clothes of the characters are those of the Italian and the French flags : the white robe, the red tights, green hat and the lapel of the coat and finally the blue gown of the woman.

Francesco Hayez was born in Venice in the late ‘700; on his twenties, he moved to Rome where he became a pupil of Canova. After working in Naples and Florence, he arrived in Milan where he tought at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and where he attended the intellectual circles of the city and met Alessandro Manzoni.

And in Milan, after the exposure of his ” Pietro Rossi” (portrayed while he is reached by a Venetian messenger who invites him to take command of Venice resistance against the expansionist aims of the Scaligeri, and, in presence of his wife and daughters weeping, the hero accepts), he was recognized as the representative of the new romantic painting.

In fact, this painting marks the novelty, not so much for the style – Hayez never gave up his neoclassical language – but for the choice of subject “historical-medieval” instead of “mythological”. A subject taken from national history of the 1300, loaded with political, civil and moral values, that refer to the patriotic climate of the time, with its first Carbonari riots seems chosen just to inflame the nineteenth century sensibility, as was the case with the contemporary “historical fiction” that had, in “the Betrothed” by Alessandro Manzoni 1840, the greatest masterpiece.

This work won him Manzoni esteem of and new commissions from the liberal Milanese aristocracy; and this is how he was consecrated as the champion of the new “engaged” history painting.

His nudes have a real incarnate, an overwhelming sensuality that made scandal and overwhelmed the senses.  For instance, “The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet”, where she is too undressed, muscular and real, caused much disturbance among the  right-thinking public.

Hayez was much requested also for the portrait, a genre in which the artist reached results equally remarkable: its famous Cavour, Manzoni, Verdi, Rossini, are so iconic that, even today, these figures are familiar to us just as Hayez painted them.

He was also an excellent draftsman and etcher.

The works of Francesco Hayez accompanied by the Symphony No. 9 Beethowen

Until February 21, 2016 the works of Francesco Hayez will be on display at galleries in Italy Piazza della Scala in Milan.

Click here to find out the times and prices of the exhibition