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Matthias Stom, Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist
Artist Matthias Stom
Artist dates about 1600 - after 1652?
Date made probably about 1630-2
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 109.2 × 155.7 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6645
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist
Matthias Stom

The grim story of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist, the prophet who preached the coming of Christ as the Messiah, is recounted in the Gospel of Mark. John had criticised King Herod for marrying Herodias, the wife of his own half-brother. In revenge, Herodias persuaded her daughter Salome to ask for the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Stom has depicted Salome receiving the severed head – the executioner dangles it high over the platter that she holds up. John’s brightly lit face emerges from the murky shadows, and it’s not immediately obvious that his head is no longer attached to his body. A boy in the foreground thrusts a torch forward, providing stark illumination and adding to the theatrical impact of the scene.

Probably painted shortly after 1630 in Rome, this work shows how much Stom had been influenced by the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers, who pioneered this dramatic use of lighting with the realistic observation of human emotions.

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