The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas
Salome, to the right, witnesses the execution of Saint John; she holds a dish to receive his severed head. In the biblical story Salome’s dance enchanted Herod and his wife Herodias, who persuaded her husband to have the saint executed.
The artist painted two versions of this dramatic subject, full of exotic details and complex symbolism. Puvis uses a deliberately archaic style which heightens our sense of witnessing a mysterious event from the past. The symmetrical composition is simplified in form, like an icon, with the figures frozen and purged of emotion.
Purchased 1956 (No.56.5)