And when a convenient day was come, Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee;
And when the daughter of Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
Fin de siecle artists were obsessed with Salome and her symbolism as "the virgin whore". The fantasy of Salome as a femme fatale, a bloodthirsty temptress, was quite pronounced among male artists of the period, right up through the 1920's. Lurid pictures showing her with her trophy, the bloody, dripping head of John the Baptist, abounded.
Bram Dijkstra, a Professor of English Lit at UC San Diego in the 60's wrote in his seminal work Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-siècle Culture the following interesting statement:
"virginity is the worst form of feminine whoredom, because in her virginity woman maintains her self-sufficiency, and hence her power to decapitate the male by making him wait in impotent longing for her compliance to his wishes. Then, when he loses patience, she, in effect, perversely forces him to rape her, to slay her in order to regain his masculinity".
An intriguing tidbit to chew about female power, no?
I prefer to think of Salome as in the art I'm presenting below, which includes a work by one female artist which, I believe, conveys to us an entirely different sort of Strange Girl. (Click on the pictures to fully appreciate them.)
In 1870, Henri Regnault painted Salome with a knife and basin against a vivid yellow background. The model was a young peasant whom Regnault met in Rome in 1860. If you click on this painting for a closer look, you can appreicate the gorgeous, silken luminosity of her dress.
Gustav Moreau made many paintings of Salome in his career. His style was dreamlike, mystical and somewhere just beyond the fringes of reality. You can see why he was an early influence of the Surrealists. Salome Dancing Before Herod (1876) is considered his masterpiece.
The American female artist Ella Ferris Pell presented Salome in Paris in 1890. Here is a soft, round, contemplative Salome. Her placid features, her downward gaze, and her unemotional grasp of the charger portrays a Salome who lacks the calculated cunning of the male painters' subject. Not surprisingly, the critics ignored this work. I think it looks pre-Raphaelite.
Alphonse Mucha's lithograph Salome, published by l’Estampe Moderne in 1897, shows Salome in gypsy attire with her very art nouveau harp and diaphonous green draping.
Here is Salome (1906) by the great Symbolist/Expressionist Franz von Stuck. Salome in all of her sexy, laughing, powerful, iconic man-eating glory.
This drawing entitled The Stomach Dance was made in 1907 by Aubrey Beardsley as an illustration for Oscar Wilde's play of 1891, Salome. Here as in Beardsley's other Salome drawings, she is portrayed as coldly bargaining her body for the prize, using her sexuality with an air of distance with a hard gaze.
The Armenian artist Vardges Surenyants painted this hazy, Impressionistic Salome in 1907. I think this work could be transported easily to the pages of Vogue in 2008. I love her haughty expression.
Here is Giuditta II (Salome), (1909) by Gustav Klimt. One of Klimt's works from his later "mosaic" period, the black haired dancer is surrounded by vivid geometrics. Klimt envisions Salome as a cruel, triumphant predator as shown in the angles of her face, body and hands.
Robert Henri was an American artist who founded the Ashcan Movement, so called because the paintings were often of life in the poorer neighborhoods of New York City. Here is his Salome from 1909 as an assertive, statuesque temptress.
The French Symbolist painter and illustrator Gaston Bussiere specialized in exotic female nudes. In this painting from 1914, Salome, she coyly dances the Seven Veils at the banquet. A precursor to the Pin-Up girl perhaps?
In 1918, the "Vamp" of the silent screen, Theodosia Goodman, better known as Theda Bara, starred in the silent film Salome, a film which was lost in a fire in 1937 along with 37 other of her other films. Only 3 remain intact, further enhancing her mystery and inspiring the devotion of modern-day Goth girls. Here is one of a few surviving stills of Theda Bara in Salome.