From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Salome or Salomé, the Daughter of Herodias (c AD 14 - between 62 and 71), is known in connection with the death of John the Baptist.

Christians traditions depict her as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness, for instance depicting her dance mentioned in the New Testament (in some later transformations further iconised to the dance of the seven veils), or concentrate on her lighthearted and cold foolishness which according to the gospels led to John the Baptist's death. A new ramification was added by Oscar Wilde, who in his play Salome let her devolve into a necrophiliac, killed the same day as the man whose death she had requested. This last interpretation, made even more memorable by Richard Straus's opera based on Wilde, is not consistent with Josephus' account; according to the Romanized Jewish historian, she lived long enough to marry twice and raise several children. Few literary accounts elaborate the biographical data given by Josephus.

This Biblical story has long been a favourite of painters, since it offers a chance to depict oriental splendour, semi-nude women, and exotic scenery under the auspices of being a Biblical subject. Painters who have done notable representations of Salome include Titian and Gustave Moreau.


Salome in the arts

As an icon of dangerous female seductiveness Salome dancing before Herod or with the head of the Baptist on a charger have provided inspiration for Christian artists.

Despite Josephus' account, she was not consistently called Salome until the nineteenth century, when Gustave Flaubert (following Josephus) referred to her as Salome in his short story "Herodias".

Painting and sculpture

Salome in painting and sculpture

This Biblical story has long been a favourite of painters, since it offers a chance to depict oriental splendour, semi-nude women, and exotic scenery under the auspices of a Biblical subject. Painters who have done notable representations of Salome include Titian, Henri Regnault, Georges Rochegrosse, Gustave Moreau, and Federico Beltran-Masses. Titian's version (illustration) emphasizes the contrast between the innocent girlish face and the brutally severed head.

Theatre and literature

Salome figures in two 18th century French plays on Mariamne, second wife of Herod the Great:

In 1877 Gustave Flaubert's Three Tales were published, including "Herodias". In this story full responsibility for John's death is given to Salome's mother Herodias and the priests who fear his religious power. Salome herself is shown as a young girl who forgets the name of the man who's head she requests as she is asking for it. Jules Massenets 1881 opera Hérodiade was based on Flaubert's short story.

Oscar Wilde's play

Salomé's story was made the subject of a play by Oscar Wilde that premiered in Paris in 1896, under the French name Salomé. In Wilde's play, Salome takes a perverse fancy for John the Baptist, and causes him to be executed when John spurns her affections. In the finale, Salome takes up John's severed head and kisses it.

Because at the time British law forbade the depiction of Biblical characters on stage, Wilde wrote the play originally in French, and then produced an English translation (titled Salome).

Richard Strauss opera

The Wilde play (in a German translation of Hedwig Lachmann) was edited down to a one-act opera by Richard Strauss. The opera Salome, which premiered in Dresden in 1905, is famous for the Dance of the Seven veils. As with the Wilde play, it turns the action to Salome herself, reducing her mother to a bit-player, though the opera is less centered on Herod's motivations than the play.


In 1907 Florent Schmitt composed the ballet La tragédie de Salomé. Another Salome ballet was composed by the Japanese composer Akira Ifukube in 1948. Danish choreographer Flemming Flindt's ballet Salome premiered in 1978.


In "Salome" (1896) by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, characterised by some critics as "neo-Pagan", Salome instigated the death of John the Baptist as part of a futile effort to get the interest of "a young sophist who was indifferent to the charms of love". When Salome presents to him the Baptist's head, the sophist rejects it, remarking in jest "Dear Salome, I would have liked better to get your own head". Taking the jest seriously, the hoplessly infatuated Salome lets herself be beheaded and her head is duly brought to the sophist, who however rejects it in disgust and turns back to studying the Dialogues of Plato.

Other Salome poetry has been written by among others Nick Cave (1988) and Carol Ann Duffy (1999).


Songs about Salome were written by, among others, Kim Wilde (1984), U2 (1990), Old 97's (1997), The Residents (1998), Chayanne (1999) and Xandria (2007).



Wilde's Salome has often been made into a film, notably a 1923 silent film, Salome, starring Alla Nazimova in the title role and a 1988 Ken Russell play-within-a-film treatment, Salome's Last Dance, which also includes Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas as characters.

IMDB lists at the very least 25 Salome/Salomé films, and numerous resettings of the Salome story to modern times. Among the former are


  • In the film, The Night Porter, Max is inspired by the story of Salome. After Lucia dances for the SS guards, Max gives her a "present" - the decapitated head of a prisoner whom Lucia disliked.
  • In Billy Wilder's 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond's script in which she plans to make her comeback is a bloated retelling of the Salome story.
  • In the prologue to Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut, Salome is mentioned as one of the historical figures seen in the mouth of hell in the short story Vonnegut says he began to write about meeting his father in heaven. The other figures mentioned are Adolf Hitler, Nero, and Judas Iscariot.
  • In Bladerunner (1982), the replicant, Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy, poses as an exotic dancer named Miss Salome.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Salome" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools