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Salome displays the severed head of John the Baptist as his executioner places it in a footed bowl. Her mother Herodias, who held a grudge against John the Baptist for saying her marriage to Herod was unlawful, persuaded Salome to ask for this grisly prize from Herod as a reward for her dancing (Mark 6: 21–28). We are placed in the role of Herodias, presented with the object of our desire. The executioner’s pose and the turn of his head echoes that of Salome, underlining the contrast between her pale beauty and his swarthy, muscular physique. The table-top is supported by a stone harpy – a half-woman and half-bird personification of storm winds. There are three variants of this composition by Casare da Sesto; the original is probably the one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, of which this painting is possibly a studio replica.
probably about 1510-20
Oil on poplar
H 135.3 x W 80 cm
bequeathed by George Salting, 1910