Matthias Stom: Salome Receives

The Dutch artist Matthias Stom painted Salome Receives the Head of John the Baptist, probably about 1630-2, which I saw at London’s National Gallery. The grisly scene has been somewhat sanitised by the absence of blood and gore, but like Caravaggio, Stom uses chiaroscuro and life-size figures to intensify dramatic impact. Salome, the Herodian princess who took exception to John’s moralising, looks a deathlier shade of white than even her victim’s head. John’s face is certainly the most handsome of all the characters present, with only the obedient executioner coming close to rivalling his beauty. Furthermore, John’s head, by virtue of being close to the boy’s torch, has become the source of light by which the other figures are seen. Indeed, Salome might have thought herself wise for having concocted such a plan with her wicked mother, but the light John preached would be the standard by which her actions- and her soul- will be judged.