Guido Reni (Bologna 1575 - 1642)
Salome holding the head of John the Baptist
oil on canvas
134 x 97 cm
The figure of Salome stands out on a grey and indistinct background, holding the head of John the Baptist on a plate, that must be delivered to her mother Herodias.
The Gospel (Mt. 14, 1-12) recounts that the king Herod Antipahad arrested John the Baptist due to the critiques he received from the saint in relation to his union to Herodias, who had been previously married to his brother.
During a banquet on his honour, Salome performed a sensual dance and seduced Herod to such a degree that he promised her to fulfil any desire. The young girl, instigated by her mother, asked for ‘the head of John the Baptist on a plate’.
The version of Guido Reni confronts the narrative line of the story – the young girl carrying Saint John’s head on a dish – and her very figure that gazes at the viewer in a cold and impersonal way.
The skilful technique used by Reni accentuates the distance between Salome and the viewer and brings her bulky clothes out of the canvas.
The masterpiece is believed to be that acquired by Cardinal Francesco Barberini on 13 December 1639. It was incorporated to the Corsini collection as a donation from Monsignor Bardi to Pope Clement XII (1730-1740). It became immediately one of the most appreciated paintings in the collection, as it is recounted in the eighteenth and nineteenth century guides of Rome and the multiple praising testimonies recorded.