The itinerant John the Baptist has baptized Christ. In the Gospels, John announces the coming of Jesus and is therefore considered the “forerunner”. He died a cruel death by beheading. One of the variants of the story is that his death was the result of the wish of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome.
There have been many renderings of the beheading of St John the Baptist by Salome.
Salome looks away, although she is carrying the tray with the motionless head. The sword-man contemplates the fate of humans, while the servant observes in silence. This is a silent motionless picture full of tension.
There have also been a few “staged” photos. Frantisek Dritkol’s black and white photo shows an ecstatic Salome, delirious with joy, holding the head to her chest.
Finally, in prints Aubrey Beardsley’s depiction is minimal, but in my view highly effective.
Umayyad Mosque in Damascus Syria, built on the Christian Basilica dedicated to St John the Baptist, is one of the places claiming to have St John’s head.
There is no better end to such a quick tour of the macabre end to the story, than Salome’s dance as interpreted by Karita Mattila. to the music of Richard Strauss’s opera “Salome”.
The opera is based on a the Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome”.
“In Salome, Oscar Wilde expresses a dangerous relationship between sight and sexual desire that leads to death. The play depicts a night in a royal court on which Herod, the Tetrarch of Judea, and his wife, Herodias, hold a dinner party for some Jewish officials. Herodias’s daughter Salome leaves the party and occupies the terrace, where she attracts the gaze of other male characters, while she herself becomes attracted to the prophet, Iokanaan. Her carnal desire for Iokanaan leads to his beheading, an act that brings her sexual gratification and leads her to kiss the lips of his severed head. Similarly, Herod comes to desire his step-daughter Salome, and, after persuading her to dance a highly sexualized dance, he is disgusted when she kisses Iokanaan’s lips and orders his soldiers to kill her.”
More on the play in the excellent article by Leland Tabares, which is the source of the above summary.
“A scherzo with a fatal conclusion” was Richard Strauss’ own tongue-in-cheek description of Salome. Upon hearing the freshly composed score played at the keyboard, his father—a famous musician himself—declared that it conjured the feeling of countless bugs crawling inside his pants. (From Washington National Opera’s feature article on Salome).