Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist

Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist

c. 1517

Albrecht Altdorfer

(German, c. 1480-1538)

Pen and brown ink and brush and white gouache, framing lines in black ink

Support: Laid paper prepared with dark brown ground, laid down on cream(3) laid paper; window mount of cream(3) laid paper mounted to recto

Sheet: 19.1 x 12.6 cm (7 1/2 x 4 15/16 in.); Secondary Support: 20 x 13 cm (7 7/8 x 5 1/8 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1948.440

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The artist colored the paper on this drawing a dark brown in order to emphasize the highlights and shadows created with inks.

Description

Salome's story is described in the biblical Gospels of Mark and Matthew. After dancing for King Herod of Galilee, her new stepfather, she was granted any wish she desired. Influenced by her mother, Herodias, she asked that John the Baptist--who was then imprisoned for condemning Herod and Herodias' marriage--be executed. Here, Salome enacts the most gruesome part of the story, presenting the prophet's head on a platter. In the Renaissance, the story was believed to presage the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the presentation of the Eucharist during Catholic liturgy. Altdorfer's drawing emphasizes Salome's pride--a dangerous sin--through her elaborate garments, billowing, plumed headdress, and flowing long hair. He articulated these details using black ink highlighted with white gouache on paper darkened with brown wash and a finely pointed pen.

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