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Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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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.

The National Gallery, London





probably about 1510-20


Oil on poplar


H 135.3 x W 80 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

bequeathed by George Salting, 1910

Work type



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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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