MASSYS, Quentin
(b. 1465/66, Leuven, d. 1530, Antwerpen)

St John Altarpiece (left wing)

Oil on wood
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

The left wing shows Salome offering the head of St John the Baptist to Herod. In this panel every face bears the stamp of evil. Herodias uses the tip of her knife to make her mark in the saint's forehead; she is presented as the perfect courtesan untrustworthy and vindictive. Herod himself, with his thick lips, hooked nose and narrowed eyes, even seems a little frightened by what he has just done. The whole panel is marked by an extraordinary sense of profane pleasure in such a sumptuous display of rich colours.