Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

May 1994


Published in Romance Languages Annual VI (1994), pp. 61-66. Copyright 1994 Purdue Research Foundation. Used by permission.


The combination of religious and erotic motifs plays a large role in shaping the artistic experience of the Renaissance. One thinks of paintings such as della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ (1540), as well as Michelangelo’s Last Judgment (1545). Lyric poetry also provides numerous examples of this aesthetic bond; among them Petrarch’s “Chiare fresche e dolci acque” and Ronsard’s “Je veux brûler, pour m’envoler aux cieux.” The lyric subgenre which perhaps most distinctly follows the trend of merging sexual and divine experience is the baiser, or kiss. Originally secular in nature, the baiser first appeared in epigram form in the Greek Anthology. Baiser was adapted by Catullus and Ovid, inspiring what later became the style mignard of the Renaissance. Jean de La Ceppède’s version of the baiser in his Théorèmes exemplifies the attempt during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries to transform secular lyric types a lo divino. Elsewhere in the Théorèmes, the poet’s method of blending lyric form and technique with a devotional topic finds expression in sonnets modeled after emblem, pastourelle, and blason. Baiser, however, is La Ceppède’s most explicit attempt to fuse the carnal and the spiritual, paradoxically blending a kind of style bas in language and theme with the lofty, if not transcendental goal of moving his reader to receive Christ. Before discussing the poet’s specific appropriation of the form, it will be useful to examine the history of the baiser, as well as the a lo divino tradition to which La Ceppède’s baiser belongs.