Originally conceived for The Gates of Hell, The Kiss was one of Rodin’s variations of the theme of Dante’s tragic lovers, Paolo and Francesca, recounted in the Inferno, the primary literary inspiration for The Gates. Francesca was betrothed to the brother of Paolo, who was her tutor. She explained to Dante that their love began innocently while
Reading for pleasure/ about Lancelot and how love had overcome him … But there was only one passage that overcame us. / When as we read of the much-longed-for smile / Being by such a noble lover kissed / he who shall never be parted from me, trembling kissed me on the mouth … that day we read no farther.
When Rodin exhibited the sculpture as an independent work in 1887, critics called it The Kiss, and it has been known by that title ever since.