Salome Dancing for Herod by Hans Horions

Hans Horions

Salome Dancing for Herod, c.1634–72, Oil on canvas, 176 x 133 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-A-804, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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Piercing Gazes

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The Roman–Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus was the first to give a name to Herodias’s daughter. In his Antiquities of the Jews, written in the year 93 or 94 CE, he introduces the girl as Salome—a name which over the following centuries would be attached to many different, often contradictory, but always imagined personae.

Hans Horions, a rather elusive seventeenth-century artist who worked in the Dutch city of Utrecht, painted his Salome in an austere Calvinist climate. The Dutch Reformed Church at the time fiercely opposed dancing. For instance, in a ‘Sermon against Dancing’ (Predicatie tegen ‘t dansen), published in 1643, the story of Salome and Herod is used to illustrate the fatal effects of dance. Its author, Joannes Naeranus, argues that it was the young woman’s seductive dance that led the king to commit an act of evil against his own free will.

In Horions’s painting, Herod and his birthday party appear to be spellbound by Salome’s performance. They gaze at her transfixed, ready to give her whatever she will ask for. Herodias, bathed in the same bright cool light as her daughter, is visually cast as Salome’s counterpart at the right of the painting. Her eyes seem to follow the dancer’s every move, like those of a puppet master directing her marionette’s strings, the large gleaming platter on the buffet behind her heralding the consequence of her actions: a killing. 

The dancer herself, depicted in line with earlier Renaissance tradition as an idealized beauty and artistic muse, advances her sandal-clad foot, her high slit dress exposing a bare leg. This Salome is engaged in an active act of looking of her own. She gazes out of the painting, directly addressing the spectator, turning him or her into a witness, or perhaps even an accomplice.

 

References
Brooks, Lynn Matluck. 1988. ‘Court, Church, and Province: Dancing in the Netherlands, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’, Dance Research Journal, 20: 19–27


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