Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dance of Salome

In my last post I included a photograph of a Renaissance painting by Sano di Pietro, showing St. Anthony in three different locations as he journeyed to meet St. Paul. Several readers wrote me afterward, intrigued by the way the painter tried to capture movement and the passage of time. A similar painting - also one of my favorites - is The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Benozzo Gozzoli (c.1421-1497). In this composition, three different events are recorded. 


The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist
Benozzo Gozzoli
1461-1462, tempera on panel , 16" x 20"
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Salome dances for father, Herod, who is so pleased he grants her a wish. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, she asks for the head of John the Baptist, haplessly being beheaded on the left. In the background, Salome appears again, presenting his head to her mother. 

The Biblical significance of this story - or any other religiously themed work - is not important to me, but I do like the narrative in this case. I also especially enjoy the color and the composition, the movement through pictorial space. And I think it's quite brilliant how Salome's right arm, the curve of her body, and the executioner and his upraised sword, all combine to create a circular movement around the sly instigator of the murder, Herodias.

As a side note, a significant objective of some contemporary Conceptual Art involves capturing an aspect of time: a stroke or shape may be repeated over and over, or photographs may be taken at regular intervals during a relationship or journey, all in an attempt to register a sense of the passage of time. Perhaps then one could say this idea is really not so new.

Another Renaissance example: the second of Botticelli's four panels about the story of Nastagio degli Onesti, from the Decameron by Boccaccio. Nastagio is witnessing the apparition of a star-crossed couple doomed forever to a cycle of horror, with the murder in the foreground and the chase in the background.


The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, painting 2
Sandro Botticelli
1483, paint on panel, 32" x 54"
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it is fascinating to see how Renaissance painters showed a sequence in time in a single canvas. How grizzly, though beautiful, these two happen to be!

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