Salome with the Head of John Baptist
Pordenone (Giovanni Antonio de Sacchis). Italian, 1483/84 - 1539
SN 66. Oil on a Panel

by Robert Anderson.

Pordenone was active as a fresco painter and became one of the most influential and innovative individual artists in Northern Italy in the early to mid 16th century. He became Titian's chief rival in Venice and the expressive intensity of his painting anticipates the art of Tintoretto. His fresco decorations reveal the complex formal influence of Mantegna, Giovanni Carpaccio and Bellini ; from 1514, on the influence of Giorgione can be seen in the intensity of his dramatic scenes. Other decisive influences on his work were the early works of Titian and paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo. During his mature period, Pordenene attracted considerable attention and became known for his facade decoration. He was unique in that he regarded drawing as more fundamental to his art than did any other painter born in the area dominated by Venice. During the later part of his life, Manneristic elements became more marked in Pordenone's work. This can be seen in facade decorations on the Grand Canal in Venice and in the allegorical and mythological figures painted on the Palazzo Tinghi in Udin.

John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He had appeared as a herald preaching the coming of the "Kingdom of God", repentence and the need of baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John had testified to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah and had baptised Him in the river Jordan. He was seen by some as a revolutionist.

Herod was the ruler of Gallilee who had married his brother's wife Herodias in violation of Hebrew law. When John criticized this action he was thrown into jail. At a birthday party for Herod, Herodias'daughter Salome danced so well that Herod promised her anything she wished for. At Herodias' suggestion, Salome asked for the head of John. Reluctantly Herod ordered the decapitation and John's head was brought to Salome on a platter.

Unfortunately the painting had been damaged in the distant past by over-cleaning. The work, however, clearly suggests the influence of Giorgione and Titian whose style had great influence on Pordenene's painting. In fact, it was originally thought to be painted by Giorgione when in the collection of Queen Cristina of Sweden.

Salome is seen receiving the salver with the head of John the Baptist while her maid on her left and a man in armor ( soldier) on the right look on. The positioning of these figures balance the painting quite harmoniously. The intense light on Salome's face contrasts with the realistic pallor on the face of John. This shows some of the Titian influence . One can also see the influence of Titian in the mood of quietness that is present as Salome receives the head of the Baptist. One can see that a violent action (the decapitation) has been completed and Salome is somewhat reflective and passive. It makes one wonder if Salome regrets her decision to ask for John's death.

This painting was purchased by John Ringling at Christies, in London, on July 15, 1927 having been previously in the collections of Queen Cristina of Sweden, The Duc d' Orleans (Palais Royal), and Sir George Holford, Dorchester House, London.

It had been exhibited at the New Gallery in London (1894-5) and at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1914.

Historical Context:
This was time of great unrest in Israel. There were a number of revolutionary movements against the government with a great emotional expectation of the coming of a liberating Messiah. John the Baptist and indeed Jesus himself were looked upon by the authorities and their upper class supporters as dangerous to the orderly exercise of government.