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Godfried Schalcken

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist


Godfried Schalcken
Made (Dordrecht) 1643 – The Hague 1706


Salome with the Head of John the Baptist


About 1700


Oil on canvas


116.3 x 85.9 cm


Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michal Hornstein in honour of Guy Cogeval, Director of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (1998-2006), inv. 2003.87


Western Art

Schalcken trained in the Leiden studio of Dou, a Rembrandt pupil who mastered the minute detailing of objects. With a varnish-smooth finish, he tended to employ candlelight and indirect lighting to attain chiaroscuro effects. Schalcken further developed this aesthetic. With this late work, he achieves a new level of psychological insight. According to Saint Matthew, King Herod took his brother’s wife, Herodias, as his own. When John the Baptist criticized this illegal arrangement, the king had him arrested. For Herod’s birthday, Herodias’ daughter Salome danced for him, whereupon he promised her anything she wished. At her mother’s prompting, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a salver. With the starry night visible through the cross-barred prison window, the executioner stands behind Salome, hand on his sword, as she, looking at her handmaiden, bears the platter with his head.

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