The semiotic analysis of sculptures, paintings, and photographs constitutes yet another source for deciphering the meanings of love. The philosopher Plotinus claimed that art revealed the true nature of an object more accurately than just viewing it with the eyes, raising our experience of the mundane to a contemplation of universal truths. This is certainly true of the visual representations of love. Indeed, of all the grand visions conjured up by the human imagination, few captivate us more than the moment when lovers lock in an intimate embrace or a passionate kiss, as in the great kiss sculpture by Rodin, which recounts visually the medieval story of the star-crossed lovers, Paolo and Francesca, as well as capturing the intensity of their love through an indelible yet fatalistic embrace cast into marble. The painters and sculptors who have made love the object of their art are among the greatest of all time, from the ancient anonymous sculptors to Titian, Rodin, Hayez, and even the pop artists, to mention but a handful. They have left us a powerful “pictography” of love that speaks to our eyes and heart directly. The purpose of this chapter is to describe this pictography. The history of love as documented in images is intertwined with the history of entire societies. The ancient Greek sculptures portrayed love gods goddesses as powerful and defiant, and as founders of their worlds. From Aphrodite and Adonis to the mischievous love satyrs and nymphs, we have before us a powerful visual almanac of how love and sex have stimulated the imagination of artists from the dawn of history.
Marcel Danesi, The semiotics of Love, Springer, 2019