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The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

Image credit: The Henry Barber Trust, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

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Salome, to the right, witnesses the execution of Saint John; she holds a dish to receive his severed head. In the biblical story Salome’s dance enchanted Herod and his wife Herodias, who persuaded her husband to have the saint executed. The artist painted two versions of this dramatic subject, full of exotic details and complex symbolism. Puvis uses a deliberately archaic style which heightens our sense of witnessing a mysterious event from the past. The symmetrical composition is simplified in form, like an icon, with the figures frozen and purged of emotion.

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist




oil on canvas


H 124.5 x W 166 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

purchased, 1956

Work type


Inscription description

Signed and dated: Puvis de Chavannes/14 Xbre 1869


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Normally on display at

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands B15 2TS England

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