Susan here – thinking about how artworks can express and evoke romance in much the same way as a book or a movie. Paintings, drawings, sculpture, and more can convey a sense of love, passion, devotion, attraction–and we can take that in and understand it in the blink of an eye.
The power of the visual is strong, immediate, intuitive. Images are shortcuts to our mental and emotional response, and we can connect instantly. If the subject is romantic, we get it immediately. Here are some of my favorite examples!
King Tutankhamun and his queen, Ankhesenamon, shown on the back of a golden chair found in Tut’s tomb. 18th dynasty. This shows the tenderness and affection between the teenage king and his young half-sister/wife – a sense of emotional intimacy that appears elsewhere in Egyptian art (particularly of this period).
The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck, 1434, National Gallery, London. An enigmatic double portrait of a possible marriage between (tentatively identified) the Bruges merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife (her right hand in his left, the artist’s signature and image in the mirror on the back wall make this a possible legal document; other symbolic representations refer to marriage, loyalty, fertility and so on). Arnolfini was once described by a scholar as “a cold fish,” yet there’s a certain vulnerability and shyness in both groom and bride that is endlessly fascinating, and – even if one just absorbs the exquisite beauty of this little painting– it has a romantic, what-will-happen-to-them sense that captures our curiosity. There is a theory that this is perhaps a memorial portrait of a wife who had died – making this portrait even more romantic and poignant – and certainly less cold than some suggest.
Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride 1667, Rijksmuseum. The subjects of this picture are unknown – perhaps Old Testament figures, which Rembrandt painted often – or perhaps another couple. Whoever they are, the painting of these two is exquisite, rich with a real yet understated emotional content that seems lasting and powerful. There is such love in this painting, from the quiet, protective gestures to the warm lighting—even the build-up of paint on the surface adds layers of golden richness that deepen the emotional content.
Pierre-Auguste Cot, The Storm, 1880, The Metropolitan Museum, NYC. In college, this was the poster I taped on my wall–the young lovers fleeing a storm or some unseen enemy, all gorgeous passion, swirling energy, devotion and the mystery of romance.
Frederick Burton, The Meeting on the Turret Stair, Museum of Ireland, 1864. Poignant and powerful, the last meeting of a couple doomed to be apart–the last touch as they pass each other to be forever separated. The polished realism, the vivid color, the solid figures and the spiral of their bodies all work together to give this image its emotional power.
The Painter's Honeymoon, Lord Fredric Leighton, 1864, Boston MFA. This picture so beautifully conveys a moment of devoted, contented new love — light, textures, the contrast of hard and soft, light and dark, all contribute to the strength and quiet beauty of the image. And those clasped hands, just lovely.
The Order of Release 1746, Sir John Everett Millais, 1852, The Tate. The Highland wife in this exquisite painting is the very image of strength in love, accepting her Highland husband from English custody. Her control and determination here stirring and beautiful. Another love story is related to this painting, as the model was Effie Ruskin, the wife of John Ruskin. She fell in love with the painter when the Ruskins traveled with Millais on a trip to Scotland; two years later, when her marriage to Ruskin had ended, they married.
So there you go, some of my favorite romantic paintings. Please share your favorite images too!