Salome with the Head of John Baptist
Pordenone (Giovanni Antonio de Sacchis). Italian, 1483/84 - 1539
SN 66. Oil on a Panel
by Robert Anderson.
Pordenone was active as a fresco painter and became one of the most influential and
innovative individual artists in Northern Italy in the early to mid 16th century. He
became Titian's chief rival in Venice and the expressive intensity of his painting
anticipates the art of Tintoretto. His fresco decorations reveal the complex formal
influence of Mantegna, Giovanni Carpaccio and Bellini ; from 1514, on the influence of
Giorgione can be seen in the intensity of his dramatic scenes. Other decisive influences
on his work were the early works of Titian and paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo.
During his mature period, Pordenene attracted considerable attention and became known for
his facade decoration. He was unique in that he regarded drawing as more fundamental to
his art than did any other painter born in the area dominated by Venice. During the later
part of his life, Manneristic elements became more marked in Pordenone's work. This can be
seen in facade decorations on the Grand Canal in Venice and in the allegorical and
mythological figures painted on the Palazzo Tinghi in Udin.
John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He had
appeared as a herald preaching the coming of the "Kingdom of God", repentence
and the need of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John had testified to the coming of
Jesus as the Messiah and had baptised Him in the river Jordan. He was seen by some as a
Herod was the ruler of Gallilee who had married his brother's wife
Herodias in violation of Hebrew law. When John criticized this action he was thrown into
jail. At a birthday party for Herod, Herodias'daughter Salome danced so well that Herod
promised her anything she wished for. At Herodias' suggestion, Salome asked for the head
of John. Reluctantly Herod ordered the decapitation and John's head was brought to Salome
on a platter.
Unfortunately the painting had been damaged in the distant past by over-cleaning. The
work, however, clearly suggests the influence of Giorgione and Titian whose style had
great influence on Pordenene's painting. In fact, it was originally thought to be painted
by Giorgione when in the collection of Queen Cristina of Sweden.
Salome is seen receiving the salver with the head of John the Baptist
while her maid on her left and a man in armor ( soldier) on the right look on. The
positioning of these figures balance the painting quite harmoniously. The intense light on
Salome's face contrasts with the realistic pallor on the face of John. This shows some of
the Titian influence . One can also see the influence of Titian in the mood of quietness
that is present as Salome receives the head of the Baptist. One can see that a violent
action (the decapitation) has been completed and Salome is somewhat reflective and
passive. It makes one wonder if Salome regrets her decision to ask for John's death.
This painting was purchased by John Ringling at Christies, in London, on
July 15, 1927 having been previously in the collections of Queen Cristina of Sweden, The
Duc d' Orleans (Palais Royal), and Sir George Holford, Dorchester House, London.
It had been exhibited at the New Gallery in London (1894-5) and at the
Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1914.
This was time of great unrest in Israel. There were a number of revolutionary movements
against the government with a great emotional expectation of the coming of a liberating
Messiah. John the Baptist and indeed Jesus himself were looked upon by the authorities and
their upper class supporters as dangerous to the orderly exercise of government.