|Salome with the Head of John the Baptist|
The Royal Collection
I have a particular fondness, as I’ve mentioned before, for paintings of John the Baptist’s decapitated head. I’m not quite sure why. I think it’s because deep down, I have Baroque tendencies. After all, no one offered up better paintings of John on a platter than the Baroque Italian artists.
Take this stunning work by Carlo Dolci for example. This painting, executed between 1665 and 1670, was actually Dolci’s second version of the subject. The first, last seen in 1870, has since been lost, or, at the very least is unaccounted for. Dolci excelled at depicting religious scenes. His attention to detail, the clarity of his hand and his impeccable sense of composition and color brought Biblical figures to life. Here, Salome—resplendent in a bejeweled, blue silk gown—is painted so sensitively that her expression seems to change as we view the piece. She seems, at first smug, and, then contrite. On a second glance, she even looks a little fearful. Of course, John’s head is given special treatment with a shining halo that rather cruelly mimics the arc of his dead eyes and slightly-parted lips. This is Italian Baroque painting at its finest.
The artist, Carlo Dolci, was introduced to Sir John Finch in Florence in 1665. Finch admired Dolci’s work immensely and the two struck up a friendship. Finch commissioned several religious scenes for his own private collection and made a gift of this painting of Salome to King Charles II. And, so, the painting remains today in the Royal Collection. This is a fascinating work. Somehow Dolci has taken a gruesome scene and made it into something quite sweet.