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Salome, c. 1530 - Cranach [Wood, 87 x 58 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest]

"And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he swore unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist." MARK 6:22-25

Salome is not mentioned by name in the bible, other than as "the Daughter of Herodias." The lurid, even by biblical standards, tale of a teenage girl dancing for her uncle/stepfather and demanding the head of a prophet in recompense for slander against her mother, has sparked the art of sublimation for centuries. It is Josephus who gives us her name, Salome:

"Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamme the daughter of Simon the high priest. They had a daughter Salome, after birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod the Tetrarch, her husband's brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted from a living husband." -- Antiquities 18.5.3 136 Josephus, 60 C.E.

The cult of Salome gained full speed during the Italian Renaissance. As artists searched for subjects other than the traditional, Salome offered herself up without a struggle. Instead of highlighting John's tragedy, artists turned to the doe-eyed instrument of his peculiar demise for psychological exploration. True to their time, the answer they came up with was sex. What did Salome want? Sex. Not, of course, as the bible states: "For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not." The idea of revenge is tossed aside as soon as the artist imagines the dagger like flash in her eye. The leap is not hard to make. A pretty girl, clutching a silver charger with a wild man's severed head upon it. Frequently smiling, always curious, Salome's gaze is that of the insatiable virgin, who plots to rob man of his vitality through sex and sin. She is the unavoidable precipice that you would gladly step off of, but would vilify the next morning for luring you there.

"She is like a woman rising from a tomb. She is like a dead woman. One might fancy she was looking for dead things." -- Salome, by Oscar Wilde

This vision of Salome remains more or less intact to the present day. Exemplified in Oscar Wilde's "Salome" of 1894, which was so iconic and archetypal that almost any version of Salome that has been done in the past hundred years is either a direct descendent -- or a bastard child. Wilde explored the beauty of heightened biblical language to exquisite effect. The rhythm of the play reverberates long after the words were spoke. Oscar doesnąt invent anything new; he merely draws on centuries of church repressed sex, expressed thru the pantomime of ritual assassinations. Especially poignant to the Victorians, as they were the most repressed of all.

During the latter renaissance (1500-1700) Judith and Salome (as well as a multitude of Lucretias) gave noble women of the period something to masquerade as. The quasi-religious portrait probably grew out of trying to justify secular portraiture. But very quickly became a sort of charades for posterity. Some of it quite cheeky. It is fascinating that women of the time would have wanted to be characterized by their descendants as the vixen clutching a severed head. Salome was a little less popular in this regard, as her motives came from the wrong side of the tracks. Judith, however, exemplified the ultimate sacrifice, that of her virtue (both hymenally & homicidally) for the sake of her people's integrity.

Huysmans waxes masochistically ecstatic over Gustave Moreau's painting of Salome

Des Esseintes saw realized at last the Salome, weird and superhuman, he had dreamed of. No longer was she merely the dancing girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old ice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs the flesh and steels her muscles, ~a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning, like Helen of Troy of the Classic fables, all who come near her, all who see her, all who touch her. -- Joris-Karl Huysman c. 1884
--http://www.sepulchritude.com/chapelperilous/decollete/decollete-salome.html [May 2004]

Ken Russell [...]

Salome's Last Dance (1988) - Ken Russell [Amazon.com]

A cult favorite from director Ken Russell. In a candle-lit Victorian brothel, playwright Oscar Wilde sips champage as pretty prositutes enact his latest play, "Salome," about the temptress responsible for the death of John the Baptist. As Salome performs her Dance of the Seven Veils, life begins to imitate art and the story becomes a mirror of the life of its author.


Rafal Olbinski

Salome & Under the Hill - Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley

Salome & Under the Hill - Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

This joint centennial edition of Salome and Under the Hill, united by seventeen of Beardsley's unsurpassable drawings, is a timely rehabilitation of these two all-too-often ignored fin-de-siecle texts, and constitues a volume of unadulterated Decadent Erotica which must surely stand as the apogee of its kind.

Censored, banned, and ridiculed upon publication, Oscar Wilde's Salome, written in 1892 in the French language, must now be viewed as one of the greatest of all Decadent texts; an aesthetic masterwork which has seldom been accorded due respect.

Salome is an evocation of biblical horror in which blasphemies abound. More than this, its atmosphere seethes with a dangerous erotic charge from the very outset. Relentless, hypnotic repetitions in the words, arranged in fugue candences, the tale unfolds with the inexorable acceleration of an orgasmic nightmare.

Aubrey Beardsley's Under the Hill, a short work commenced in 1894, but left unfinished at the time of Beardsley's premature demise, nonetheless achieves the quintessence of Decadence, an evocation of a synaesthetic pleasure dome. A unique and indispensable text for any who seek the uttermost extremes of the manifest imagination. --Amazon.com

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