You know you're dealing with a good book when the preface is titled "Foreplay." In all seriousness, The Kiss: A Celebration of Love in Art by Serge Bramly and Jean Coulon lives up to all expectations that a book about the subject of smooching can inspire. Through 130 images and riveting essays, both authors take on the challenge of examining works from Gustav Klimt's iconic cheek kiss to Caravaggio's depiction of Narcissus trying to kiss his own reflection.

One of the book's opening lines states, "A kiss, be it a sign of affection or a mere greeting, is first of all an act of recognition." As a theme, "recognition" centers the book in an exploration of relationships first and foremost, albeit between parent and child, friends, lovers, or otherwise. While the ways one can (or should) kiss occupy the reader at a surface level, the book is truly about how we connect, and historically have connected, with one another as people.

Through artwork that reaches the contemporary moment, one learns about cultures that don't kiss at all, the meaning of certain types of kissing, and perhaps most interestingly: the many periods, artists, and museums who have overlooked the subject completely. Kissing became most popular in art during the eighteenth century and modern era, although it was ignored in prehistoric cave paintings and the work of Titian, Braque, and others. 

Whether romantic or platonic, the kiss has been an act defining culture in ways that cannot be strictly defined sexually. The Kiss: A Celebration of Love in Art accomplishes an exploration of kissing historically, mythologically, culturally, and psychologically, in a way that can be enjoyed by art lovers and coffee table book enthusiasts alike.

© The Kiss: A Celebration of Love in Art by Serge Bramly and Jean Coulon
Published by Flammarion, 2012
$45.00 U.S., $51.00 Canadian