CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)

Beheading of John the Baptist

Oil and tempera on limewood, 85 x 58 cm
Archbishop's Palace, Kromeriz

The two paintings in Kromeriz, depicting the beheading of John the Baptist and St Catherine, probably formed the two side wings of a triptych. They were commissioned by Stanislaus Thurzó (1470-1540) a patrician from Upper Hungary, the Bishop of Olmütz (Olomouc). These paintings are regarded as among Cranach's best works from the 1510s. There are several studio replicas and seventeenth-century copies of both panels.

The soldier with the halberd on the left in the foreground bears the physiognomy of Cranach and looks out at the viewer. St John the Baptist lies on the ground behind him. The henchman has already decapitated him and gives his head to Salome, who places it on a silver plate. Behind her is a group of female attendants. Salome's stepfather Herod enters the scene from the left on horseback accompanied by his entourage. A mountain forest landscape with numerous castles is visible in the background. The coat-of-arms of Stanislaus Thurzo, Bishop of Olmütz is illustrated in the bottom left corner.