DOLCI, Carlo
(b. 1616, Firenze, d. 1687, Firenze)

Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist

Oil on canvas, 122,6 x 96,5 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

Dolci was a painter of intense religiosity. His work was much sought after internationally during his own lifetime and his reputation reached its apogee during the eighteenth century, particularly in England. The meticulous finish, careful elaboration of detail and concentration of expression, especially in those compositions with single figures, are the hallmarks of a style that proved to be influential even in the late eighteenth century in the work, for example, of Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

The biblical source for the painting is Matthew 14:6-11 or Mark 6:21-8, where the daughter of Herodias danced for her stepfather, Herod, on his birthday. As a reward he promised her anything she wanted and, prompted by her mother, she chose the head of Saint John the Baptist, which she then carried to Herodias on a silver charger. The daughter subsequently became known in literature as Salome, and the theme was memorably treated in the nineteenth century by Richard Strauss and Oscar Wilde amongst others.

Dolci painted several versions of Salome. According to Baldinucci, the original version was painted, probably during the 1660s, for the Marchese Rinuccini in Florence and it proved to be the artists most popular work, known through two other variants of good quality (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen and Glasgow, City Museum and Art Gallery), which in turn spawned numerous copies. Of the three versions recorded by Baldinucci, the present painting is the second, which was acquired by Sir John Finch (1626—82) who gave it to Charles II. Finch was the English Resident at the court of the Grand Duke Ferdinand II in Florence from 1665 to 1670.

You can view other depictions of Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 15 minutes):
Richard Strauss: Salome, closing scene