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.
ReferencesBrooks, Lynn Matluck. 1988. ‘Court, Church, and Province: Dancing in the Netherlands, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’, Dance Research Journal, 20: 19–27
6But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Heroʹdi-as danced before the company, and pleased Herod, 7so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. 8Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9And the king was sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given; 10he sent and had John beheaded in the prison, 11and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother.
21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee. 22For when Heroʹdi-as’ daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it.” 23And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24And she went out, and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25And she came in immediately with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26And the king was exceedingly sorry; but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27And immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard and gave orders to bring his head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.