About this artwork

Herodias’ daughter, Salome, had danced so beautifully that Herod had promised to grant her any wish. Prompted by Herodias, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist. This was Herodias’ revenge for the Baptist’s outspoken criticism of her marriage to Herod. Here Salome presents Saint John the Baptist’s head to King Herod. Herod shrinks back in horror. To his left, Herodias prods the Baptist’s tongue with a fork. Rubens conveys the dramatic moment through the actions and expressions of his larger than life size figures, his rich colours and bold contrasts of light and shadow. The picture was probably painted for Gaspar de Roomer, a Flemish merchant based in Naples, and inspired a number of Italian artists.

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Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens, an outstanding artist, scholar and diplomat, enjoyed a long, prolific and internationally successful career. He painted themes from the Bible and classical mythology, portraits, landscapes and allegorical subjects. After spending eight years in Italy, he returned to Antwerp in 1608, where he set up a flourishing workshop. He generally painted on a large scale, and excelled in describing dramatic episodes through ample figures in dynamic poses, sumptuous colour and brilliant lighting. Rubens employed many assistants to meet the demand for his work, which came from wealthy patrons at home and abroad, including the kings of Spain, France and Britain.