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According to Saint Luke's gospel in the New Testament of the Bible, Saint John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus Christ and announced Christ's coming. He was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, for speaking out in public against the morality of Herod Antipas's marriage to Herodias, the former wife of his half-brother Herod Philip. Herodias persuaded her daughter (unnamed in the gospel but traditionally called Salome) to ask her step-father and uncle Herod to give her the head of John the Baptist on a platter, which Herod reluctantly did. In the painting Salome holds the severed head of the Baptist while Herodias pierces his tongue with a pin. This rare subject is derived not from the Bible but from a sentence of Saint Jerome's Apologia adversus Rufinum, in which it is adduced as an example of the too-late suppression of the truth: what John had said could not be unsaid.
Herodias Mutilating the Severed Head of Saint John the Baptist Held by Salome
oil on canvas
H 116.9 x W 93.5 cm
purchased by Henry S. Wellcome, c.1900–1936