Francesco Hayez, Self-Portrait with Tiger and Lion, 1830
Francesco Hayez (1791-1882) was an Italian painter and a leader of Romanticism, particularly in Milan. Born to a poor Venetian family, he was the youngest of five sons, and was sent to live with his mother's sister. Hayez displayed an aptitude for drawing from a young age and his uncle secured him an apprenticeship with an art restorer. After studying with a painter for three years, he was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice and also studied in Rome after winning a competition. Known for his large history paintings, his first major work was Ulysses in the Court of Alcinous (1814-15). In the following years, he painted a number of scenes from history, literature, and myth, as was the tradition for history painters, but he began to insert an intense drama that pushed his work past Neoclassicism and into Romanticism. Like many painters of the period he explored Orientalism and became a respected portrait painter. Perhaps his most celebrated painting is The Kiss (1859), which emphasizes the passion of Romanticism. This self-portrait is a fascinating study of the artist and the way he relates to his world. He demonstrates his skill in the beautiful rendering of the lion and tiger, which glow with life and texture. He inserts himself into the scene almost as an afterthought, a casual onlooker who appears surprised to fins himself captured in this company. The painting places the artist on the same level as these great cats, powerful and dominating. He has even mastered the felines, first by painting them at all and then by showing them in a cage. While the painter and the tiger gaze directly out at the viewer, the lion looks toward Hayez, the true master of the scene, in total control of his own world.