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There is nothing like a kiss. The only thing that approaches it in intensity is the anticipation of a kiss. Little wonder that it’s been the subject of so many poems, songs and paintings throughout history. While an estimated ten per cent of the world’s population don’t kiss (we couldn’t believe it either), for the other 90 per cent it’s a cultural, social and physiological phenomenon (it releases hormones with many benefits) that’s kept a grip on society — and our individual selves — forever.

So, in honour of the kiss and of International Kissing Day on 6 July, we rounded up ten of history’s most iconic kisses (OK, and our favourites), and a few quotes that we hope will inspire you to get your lips out there.

The kiss itself is immortal. It travels from lip to lip, century to century, age to age. Men and women garner these kisses, offer them to others and then die in turn.

— Guy de Maupassant

1. The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908

Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt was known for his erotic studies of the female form, and for his works using gold and silver leaf, of which this is the best known. Playing with form in the finest traditions of early modernism, he presents hints of two shapes, united as the man bends to envelop his kneeling lover, who has a hand behind his neck while the other holds one of his. Ah, sweet surrender.

2. Victory over Japan Day, Times Square, 1945

Kissing was a popular pose for photographers during the Second World War, but this iconic pic by Alfred Eisenstadt was all spontaneous, as a sailor grabbed a passer-by and gave her a kiss for the ages (note: we don’t recommend you follow this example). The identities of the two people have never been confirmed — but what a story they had to tell. (Bonus trivia: a year later the US censor in Japan ordered a kissing scene be added to a film, as he wanted Japanese society to be more open about what happened behind closed doors.)

Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.

— Marilyn Monroe

3. Lady and the Tramp, 1955

It’s a story as old as time: two star-crossed lovers meet, her from a refined family, him from the wrong side of the tracks. They fall in love, and they kiss — kind of. Lip contact in the famous scene is accidental, as the canine couple share a plate of spaghetti and end up eating their way along the same strand. She demurs — alas! He looks like a deer in headlights, recovers to nudge her a meatball, and is rewarded with a coy smile. Spoiler alert: there will be puppies.

4. Spider-Man, 2002

Before the franchise was re-re-booted, noted horror director Sam Raimi cast Tobey Maguire as the eponymous hero and Kirsten Dunst as his crush Mary Jane. After our favourite arachnid-oid-human-something rescues MJ from a sticky situation, the two can’t resist a kiss even while Spidey is hanging upside down by his web. But not for long, as he shoots skyward, leaving behind MJ smiling up in the rain. Patience, MJ.

5. The Kiss of Life, 1967

While we’re hanging upside down... Depicting a kiss that was not romantic but life-saving, The Kiss of Life won Rocco Morabito the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. Electrical lineman Randall Champion was unconscious and hanging upside down after touching a high line; fortunately, his harness stopped him falling to the ground, and fellow lineman JD Thompson was on the scene quickly to revive him. Champion survived and lived to the age of 64. Everyone loves a happy ending.

10. The Kiss, 1896

We have a few here from films, but this was the first and probably the most scandalous. Directed by William Heise for Thomas Edison, the 18-second film re-enacts the closing scene of a contemporary play, and did it bring out some moral indignation (bear in mind that in the US at the time, kissing in public could see you prosecuted). One critic slammed it as ‘beastly’ and ‘absolutely disgusting’, while the Roman Catholic Church called for censorship. The film has since been classified as culturally significant and preserved, its lip action a quaint historical footnote.


6. Chungking Express, 1994

There’s no kissing in In the Mood for Love, but Wong Kar-wai puts Tony Leung in this steamy — and underrated — snog that takes place after some fun foreplay to the backing of the Dinah Washington jazz standard What a Diff’rence a Day Makes and… a flight safety announcement. Leung’s girlfriend, played by Valerie Chow, is practising her safety demonstrations, but after some flight-themed banter and aeroplane noises the two find something a bit more fun to do, which is presaged by Chow avoiding-but-not-really Leung’s attempts to kiss her before finally ‘giving in’. Sometimes you have to make them work for it.

Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.

― Sylvia Plath

7. The Kiss of Death, Godfather II, 1974

Here’s a contrast to number 5 above. As far as we can tell, this is actually a thing, even if it’s been exaggerated in popular culture. Sicilian mafiosi became known in the 19th century for planting kisses on hitmen to formalise the sentencing of someone who was to be killed. The practice is adapted in The Godfather Part II to have boss Michael Corleone deliver the kiss to condemn his own brother Fredo at a New Year’s Eve party, after the latter betrays him. ‘You broke my heart,’ says Michael memorably. But business is business.

8. August Rodin’s The Kiss, 1882

Another classic artistic depiction, this sculpture by renowned French artist Auguste Rodin was conceived as part of a larger monumental piece titled The Gates of Hell, inspired by Dante’s Inferno and intended to be part of a gateway to a planned museum of decorative arts. But what does this heavenly activity have to do with hell? It depicts two real-life lovers, contemporaries of Dante, who were caught in an illicit tryst and killed for their indiscretion by an enraged husband. It’s worth pointing out that, this being 13th-century Italy, the lovers were the ones in hell, not the husband. The sin of lust might be outdated, but it does pay to be careful who you kiss.

Kissing is like drinking salted water: you drink and your thirst increases.

— Chinese proverb

9. The Socialist Fraternal Kiss, 1979

Socialist and communist leaders during the Cold War developed a particular kiss based on European traditions. Asian leaders preferred a milder form, which has survived the more intimate version and has been adopted in non-Asian countries like Cuba. But it was Europe that saw the most famous example, which took place between Soviet and East German leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the German Democratic Republic. The moment was first captured by photographer Regis Bossu, then turned into a memorable mural on the Berlin Wall titled My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel, which has not only survived but been restored. Deadly or not, you can see the passion behind it.