Skip to main content

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist
Artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Artist dates 1571 - 1610
Date made about 1609-10
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 91.5 × 106.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1970
Inventory number NG6389
Location Room 46
Collection Main Collection
Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

The story of the death of John the Baptist is related in the Gospel of Mark (6: 16–29). John had criticised King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias, and she sought revenge. At Herod’s birthday feast, Herodias’s daughter Salome so delighted the King by her dancing that he promised her anything she wanted. Encouraged by her mother, she asked for the Baptist’s head, and the King had John executed.

This is a late work by Caravaggio, probably painted towards the end of his life. He has reduced the story to its essentials, focusing on the human tragedy and conveying the scene’s emotional power through a restricted range of colour, pronounced chiaroscuro and dramatic gesture. The brutish executioner places John’s head on a salver held by Salome, whose serious expression and sidelong glance are enigmatic. An elderly maidservant clasps her hands in grief, setting the emotional tone. Characteristic of Caravaggio’s mature works, the composition appears simple but actually hides a sophisticated physical and psychological interplay between the main protagonists.

Download image
Download low-resolution image

Download a low-resolution copy of this image for personal use.

License this image

License and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.

License image
Download low-resolution image

This image is licensed for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons agreement.

Examples of non-commercial use are:

  • Research, private study, or for internal circulation within an educational organisation (such as a school, college or university)
  • Non-profit publications, personal websites, blogs, and social media

The image file is 800 pixels on the longest side.

As a charity, we depend upon the generosity of individuals to ensure the collection continues to engage and inspire. Help keep us free by making a donation today.

Download low-resolution image

You must agree to the Creative Commons terms and conditions to download this image.

Creative Commons Logo