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Salome, the daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of King Herod Antipas, danced so beautifully that the ruler let her ask for anything she wanted. Her wish, suggested by cruel Herodias, was John the Baptist’s head. Biblical Salome is one of frequent motifs in the iconography of European art. The archetype of a dangerous seductress fascinated artists of all epochs.

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Salome, the daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of King Herod Antipas, danced so beautifully that the ruler let her ask for anything she wanted. Her wish, suggested by cruel Herodias, was John the Baptist’s head. Biblical Salome is one of frequent motifs in the iconography of European art. The archetype of a dangerous seductress fascinated artists of all epochs.
Walery Gadomski showed a girlish Salome after she finished dancing; she was going downstairs to give her mother a macabre gift on a platter. The girl leant her head back, partly covered with a veil; the gesture expressed an innocence; Salome did not want to look at the result of Herodias’s desire even though she agreed to ask Herod to kill John the Baptist.
The Biblical topic is a pretext for the exotic stylisation of the character. Salome’s dress is full of oriental splendour. The girl is dressed in an ornamentally finished gown; she is wearing earrings, three heavy necklaces, and bracelets on both her wrists. A part of a decoration on the ankle is seen under a thickly draperied dress. The impressive details, expressed with solicitude by the artist, emphasises the erotic aura which emanates from the dancer. Under a thin tunic, the breasts are outlined distinctly. Salome is indeed the personification of destructive female eroticism, so strong that it drove the king to commit a crime.
The work is well inscribed in the Academic style of the art of the 19th century. Fascination with cruelty clothed in an oriental or ancient costume, typical of painters from the Paris Academy (Jean-Léon Gerôme, Paul Baudry), is also present in sculpting (Auguste Clésinger, Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse).

Elaborated by Agata Małodobry (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Salome III – a Biblical seductress

Seductive Salome, as a symbol of a femme fatale, became a character of numerous paintings, sculptures, literary and musical works. She excited the imagination of artists, especially in the decadent period of fin de siècle, when possessive and lethal femininity constituted one of the most important motifs in art.

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Seductive Salome, as a symbol of a femme fatale, became a character of numerous paintings, sculptures, literary and musical works. She excited the imagination of artists, especially in the decadent period of fin de siècle, when possessive and lethal femininity constituted one of the most important motifs in art.
The origin of her seductive dance, in exchange for which she asked for John the Baptist’s head, is Biblical. The dance was mentioned by the Evangelists Mark and Matthew. However, Salome’s participation in their accounts constitutes only a small role as the name of Salome is not even mentioned once. She is mentioned only as a daughter of Herodias, which let researchers identify her with the historical figure of Salome III. The date of her birth is not precisely known, but she lived in the time of the first Christians and was a granddaughter of Herod the Great, known for the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents. Herodias, her mother, left her first husband, Herod III, the father of Salome, and married his brother, Herod Antipas, which was met with open criticism by John the Baptist who was teaching in Galilee back then. For publicly denouncing Herod Antipas and Herodias’s incestuous relationship, John the Baptist was imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus in AD 32. At that time, the famous banquet was held by Herod. Fascinated by her dance, he promised to fulfil any request by his stepdaughter and niece. Salome, persuaded by her mother, demanded the head of the imprisoned John the Baptist. Despite being terrified by the social consequences of this act, Herod fulfilled the request and after a moment soldiers brought the decapitated head of the prophet on a platter.
Salome is usually presented with the platter on which John’s head is placed. In this image, recorded in art, Salome becomes the main perpetrator of the death of one of the most important saints in the Christian religion. Yet in the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Mark, Salome is only a tool in the hands of Herodias, her mother who hated John the Baptist.
It is fascinating what way was covered by Salome from the Bible as her source of origin to a complex motif to which artists add elements that have not even been suggested in the original story.
 

Elaborated by Kinga Kołodziejska (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also:
Sculpture “Salome” by Walery Gadomski

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Sculpture “Salome” by Walery Gadomski

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