What is Love?

From Amor to Tinder

Kunsthalle Bremen

Tinder Fatigue, from the series: 100 Indian Tinder Tales (2016) by Indu HarikumarKunsthalle Bremen

Love is everywhere... 

Love is a topic that concerns everyone. The critical role that love plays in our lives is also reflected in art. According to a recent study, satisfactory relationships are an important source of personal happiness for most Germans. Several surveys have discovered that singles have a fairly detailed idea of what a rewarding partnership should look like. Why then are more people single than ever before? Shouldn’t the internet make the search for a partner easier? The visual artists have taken up the topic of love for centuries in a variety of forms and thematic breadth: earthly love, lovers from mythology, narcissism, eroticism and the idealisation of beauty... 

Cupid (undated) by Adolf SteinhäuserKunsthalle Bremen


Amor, also known as Cupid, is the Roman god of love. Or more precisely: of falling in love. In art, he is mostly portrayed as a little boy who shoots arrows wildly in all directions. Whoever is hit by his love-soaked arrows falls in love. Just as in real life, even his mother did not know how to restrain him. Adolph Ste­inhäuser’s sculpture presents a version with bound hands; this is a reference to Cupid’s mother, who tried in this way to restrain him. But what lies behind the depiction of Cupid as a little boy? According to legend, he only began to grow when his mother bore him a brother and playmate: Anteros, the god of requited love. Indeed, love only becomes fulfilling and capable of growth and development when it en­counters love in return.

Lonely Sculpture (2014) by Tully ArnotKunsthalle Bremen


The mechanical finger of the Australian artist Tully Arnot ceaselessly likes profiles on Tinder. The finger is thoughtless, literally soulless; it swipes through the endless possibilities of the Internet. The individual is lost in an anonymous sea of images. Human beings remain isolated behind the perimeters of technology. According to Arnot’s statement, (above all) male users comb through mobile dating apps almost unconsciously. In the Tinder app, photos of persons from the local area are shown with name, age and a personal text. One swipes the profile to the right (‘like’) or to the left (‘dislike’). When two users like each other, they are matched and can chat with each other. In the most positive scenario, they agree to meet.

Adam and Eve (c. 1520) by Adriaen IsenbrantKunsthalle Bremen


Our present time is familiar with more than one model of relationships. There are hetero-, homo- and bisexual couples; there are open relationships; couples with or without children. And many more. But the oldest status of humanity must still be exp­lained: being single. Singles have a ‘justificatory obligation’ and are often pitied. Why isn’t one person enough? 

Eve, Hermann Hahn, 1895/96, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The story of Adam and Eve is the cornerstone for traditional ideas of our society. According to the American literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt, the tale of Adam and Eve is of fundamental importance to our society: ‘It deals with who we are, where we come from, why we love, why we suffer.’

Adam, Hermann Hahn, 1896, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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At the same time, the Biblical history of creation suggests that the lone human is incomplete and only finds completion in a two-person relationship. From the perspective of evolutionary biology, the purpose of the human being is to find a partner and to proliferate. But is that still true today?

The Wedding of Amor and Psyche, Hendrick Goltzius, 1587, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Ancient Greece is an important fountainhead of western culture. And the visual arts are filled with depictions of mythological couples. This is no surprise, because Greek myths, such as the tale of Psyche and Cupid have everything required by a compelling love story: love at first sight, chance, a jealous mother-in-law, a couple struggling to make a relationship work, a happy end.

Venus binds Cupid, Jean Baptiste Carpeaux, c. 1870/75, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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What at first glance looks like a loving hug, is actually Venus' attempt to tie her son Amor, as he causes a lot of mischief with his arrows. What a paradoxical idea to want to tame love! And yet it is a wish that everyone knows: who does not try to hold on to love?

Venus and Amor, Carle van Loo, Francesco Albani, c. 1740/45, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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This painting shows Amor and his mother Venus. Venus, the goddess of beauty and erotic desire, was the most beautiful woman in the Roman gods heaven. It shows itself through different attributes: sometimes as a foam-born with shell, as in the famous painting by Sandro Botticelli, times, like here, with her attribute, the dove. The dove is a symbol of the higher love, faithfulness and peacefulness. Hence the name "lovebirds" for two lovers. The cooing and beaking is interpreted as a sign of constant affection and mating willingness.

The Marriage Settlement (undated) by Pieter Christoffel WonderKunsthalle Bremen

Real Couples

Love is universal. The concept of romantic love, on the other hand, is an invention. Kinship structures used to determine marriages. They were subsequently joined by economic and political necessities and opportunities. The con­cept of romantic love first emerges around 1800, concomitant with the increasing detachment of the individual from social strata or the extended family. Suddenly there is an understan­ding that everyone has the potential and permission to fall in love with anyone. Love is considered to be the sole justification for marrying. Any other reasons - such as financial or social considerations - are now condemned. 

Family Group, Anonym, Spanish 19th century, c. 1800, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The figures in this Spanish family portrait do not look happy. The purpose of the painting was most certainly not a demonstration of love — in all likelihood, what we are looking at here is at least an arranged marriage — but of power. Expressionless, almost bored, the family members display their prosperity and progeny. Back then just as today, wooing occurred partly on the basis of pictures: Since marriages were also arranged across national borders, the partners couldn’t expect to simply cross paths at some point. As with online dating, the potential partners were selected on the basis of small, painted portraits. To some extent, of course, these images were pimped just like photos on dating platforms.

Family Portrait, Carl Friedrich Demiani, 1806, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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This group portrait shows a merchant family - recognizable by the statue of Mercury, the god of merchants, right in the picture. A family of six is ​​the exception today. Many children were not then necessarily an expression of love, but served to secure social status and succession. In addition, there were no methods of contraception at that time.

In Front of The Mirror (undated) by Douglas F. RobinsonKunsthalle Bremen


Singles often ask themselves two questions in searching for and selecting a partner: 1. Am I good (enough)? 2. Who and where is the right person for me? The social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm puts it this way: ‘Most people consider the problem of love as being, above all, the problem of being loved oneself and not so much the challenge […] of one’s own capacity to love.’ So in the me­antime, there are numerous advisors offering people help in creating a convincing online profile — as if finding a match were a matter of a perfect application portfolio. 

Female Nude in Front of the Mirror, Anonym, Enland 19th century, Late 19th century, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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In this painting a woman is depicted in three different ways: sitting on the bed in real life, as reflection in the mirror and as a shadow. The view in the mirror remains dimly. A British study says eye contact causes discomfort as soon as it exceeds 3.3 seconds.

Videostill: Wanna Play? (Love in the Time of Grindr), Dries Verhoeven, 2014, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven reports that he used the app Grindr to meet many men for sex. At the same time, he observed a variety of changes in the gay scene and in the city itself: homosexuals went out less frequently, because they could also find quick sex via the Internet. Thus bars of the LGBT scene in Amsterdam were closed. Dating apps had the effect of causing a cultural milieu that had fought for a visible place in society to disappear from view once again. In his performance Wanna Play?, Verhoeven is concerned with the visibility of intimacy in public spaces. For ten days he lived in a transparent container, chatted online with strangers, projected the anonymous chats into public view and invited his new acquaintances into the container in order to satisfy non-sexual needs.

Portrait of Vittoria Caldoni (1821) by Theodor RehbenitzKunsthalle Bremen


The cult of the body is on the upswing in the age of reality shows, social media and selfies. Yet it is considered to be egoti­stical to value someone according to the criterion of beauty. But why does it seem to be problematic when people select a partner on the basis of external appearance and a few formulated characteristics?

Allegory of Beauty, Gaetano Gandolfi, c. 1779, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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In his painting, Gaetano Gandolfi portrays the personification of beauty with classical attributes: a young couple with a mirror that symbolizes self-knowledge or self-love. On the right in the background is a harp that refers to the fine arts and the echoing sound of music - transience is a fate that overtakes beauty too. The ideal of beauty has changed over the centuries. Sometimes female curves, sometimes slender bodies were worshiped, sometimes restrained pale skin, sometimes full hair.

Venus, Aristide Maillol, 1928, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The French sculptor Aristide Maillol took ten years to complete his Venus. No wonder, after all, it should represent love, erotic desire and beauty. Although she looks sensual and feminine, his Venus could not make a career as a skinny model today.

Portrait of Vittoria Caldoni, Theodor Rehbenitz, 1821, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Vittoria Caldoni was portrayed by many artists because she embodied the prevailing romantic classicist ideal of beauty. She was just 13 years old on the painting. Not only since Germanys Next Top Model is looking for young models that stand for the zeitgeist.

The Mandolin Player, Anselm Feuerbach, 1868, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The face of Anna Risi is one of the most famous in art history. She was considered a perfect antique beauty, and Feuerbach had done to her: He painted her about 45 times and made countless drawings of her. She was not only his muse, but also his lover. However, her love story is tragic: She first lived with a simple cobbler and children in Rome and left her family for the artist. His jealousy, however, was hard to bear, so she left him and lived with a wealthy Englishman. However, the connection did not last, she returned impoverished to Feuerbach, who rejected her, however.

Double Chin | Belly, from the book "Trompe l'OEil", Eylül Aslan, 2016, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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For her book project Trompe l’OEil, the Turkish photographer Eylül Aslan met with twenty-five men whom she got to know on Tinder. She asked them which parts of their own male bodies they liked the most and the least. At the same time, she also asked them to evaluate her female body.

Thighs | Mouth, from the book "Trompe l'OEil", Eylül Aslan, 2016, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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She turned the photographs into a book. Just as with the Tinder app, she printed on the right side the body parts deemed attractive and on the left the ones said to be unattractive. ‘I am in favour of a revelation and democratisation of the individual’s own body — the exact opposite of the idealised social media world. I say: “Show yourselves as you are and stay happy!”

The Kiss (1895) by Edvard MunchKunsthalle Bremen


There is no general word for ‘love’ in Greek. The Greek langua­ge differentiates between various types of love: eros, philia and agape. Eros is passionate love; philia is marital love; agape is altruistic love. These distinctions reveal a dilemma: passion and marriage are not the same thing. Because according to Socrates, eros is desi­re. And desire means that one feels a lack that one wishes to fill. That lack is filled by partnership and marriage. So there is no longer a need to feel desire. As if falling in love wasn’t hard enough — staying in love permanently is even harder. 

Lovers, Christiaen van Couwenbergh, Jan Gerritsz van Bronchorst, 1632, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The dutch painter Christiaen van Couwenbergh illuminates this scene with only one light and leaves the bed at the right in the dark. But the finger tip of the woman makes it clear: It goes straight to the point. An interesting detail is that in the picture (from 1632!) The initiative emanates from the woman.

Mars and Venus, Pierre Mignard, c. 1685, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Cupid's mother was Venus, his father was the god of war Mars. However, Mars was not the husband of Venus, but an infidelity from which sprang Cupid: the god of love, a bastard! Married to Venus was Vulcan, the god of fire and blacksmithing. According to legend, he was ugly and limped. No wonder that his wife is from the beautiful muscle Mars got carried away?

Woman Sleeping, Jean- Baptiste Deshayes, c. 1757/58, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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In this painting by Jean Baptiste Deshayes is not the obvious - the bared chest - the special, but details. Like the dog, for example: he symbolizes loyalty, and he watches the viewer -who becomes a voyeur - with appropriate vigilance. He guards innocence. At the same time castle dogs were called "Punzenlecker". Punze is a crude word for the gender of the woman. Another detail is her hands, which lie on the one hand in the crotch and on the other hand indicate the sexual act. In the past, a woman's value was measured by her innocence, that is, her virginity. Today, however, sexual experiences give a social status.

Instant Connection, from the series: 100 Indian Tinder Tales, Indu Harikumar, 2016, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The Indian artist Indu Harikumar issued an invitation via Instagram for Indians to tell her about their Tinder experiences, which she illustrated and made public anonymously under the hashtag #100IndianTinderTales. The stories deal with one-night stands, affairs or relationships such as we know them also from analogue approaches.

Love is Love is Love, from the series: 100 Indian Tinder Tales, Indu Harikumar, 2016, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The Internet has become a new place to meet, thus the Internet has joined the bar, party or grocer’s shop as a site for people to meet each other.
New technologies are changing how we court someone, but not how we love. Because our mating and reproductive behaviour is influenced by a part of the brain that developed more than four million years ago and is not being changed by a comparatively young technology, says the American anthropologist Helen Fisher.

Credits: Story

Kunsthalle Bremen
Am Wall 207
28195 Bremen, Germany

Texts: from the booklet to the exhibition
"What is love? From Amor to Tinder"

Texts: Jasmin Mickein

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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