John’s head

A 15th century Italian painting of the Head of John the Baptist. Painted by Giovanni Bellini in 1464-1468.

This head is very similar to the one Cranach painted almost a century later. That same mix of agony and ecstasy, blood dripping out.

I love that it’s round. Makes me wish we could make round games. The shape reminds of the platter that the head ended up in after Salomé got her wish granted. Similar to how Caravaggio painted Medusa on a round canvas, referring to Perseus’s shield. Both Medusa and John lost their head! John’s hairs look a bit like snakes…

Oscar Wilde does a similar thing in his play by turning the full moon into a recurring theme.

Oh! How strange the moon looks! Like the hand of a dead woman who is seeking to cover herself with a shroud.

Moon, platter, neck, head. Aureola.

A handsome couple

A 16th century German painting of Salomé holding a platter with the head of John the Baptist. Painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1530.

Notice how both characters are looking at the spectator. Salome is appropriately dressed as a noble woman (though typically anachronistically so). And John is opening his mouth as well as his eyes. In ecstasy? Or to allow his last breath to escape? I guess since his neck is “open”, he might as well open all orifices he has left.

The platter seems like an oversized common kitchen plate. I wonder if anyone ever made the association with food when Salome requests the head on a platter. Like the spider eating its mate. And instead of saying “I have kissed thy mouth, Jokanaan”, she’d say “And I will eat you!”. Little Red Ridinghood popping up again? What’s up with that?

She is holding him like a lover, not like a dish. And the red of her mouth easily leads the eye to the red on his neck. It’s cute how they look at us. Like a couple caught doing something they didn’t want others to witness.

She has an awfully large necklace. I wonder if she fears decapitation herself…

What big eyes you have, Herod!

Salome, come drink a little wine with me. I have here a wine that is exquisite. Caesar himself sent it me. Dip into it thy little red lips, that I may drain the cup.
– I am not thirsty, Tetrarch.

Salome, come and eat fruits with me. I love to see in a fruit the mark of thy little teeth. Bite but a little of this fruit, that I may eat what is left.
– I am not hungry, Tetrarch.

Salome, come and sit next to me. I will give thee the throne of thy mother.
– I am not tired, Tetrarch.

Dance for me, Salome.
– I have no desire to dance, Tetrarch.

I command thee to dance, Salome.
– I will not dance, Tetrarch.

– from Oscar Wilde’s play Salome

Salome in the Bible

But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.

Matthew 14:6-11

And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother.

Mark 6:22-28

This is all the text referring to Salomé in the Bible. Note that her name is not even mentioned. She was named almost 100 years later by a Jewish/Roman historian.