Andrea Solario (Italian, Milanese, Italian, Milanese, ca. 1465–1524)
Oil on wood; 22 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (57.2 x 47 cm)
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931 (32.100.81)
Solario painted a number of variants on the present composition, of which this is one of the most notable. Its figure style is influenced by Leonardo da Vinci as well as by Northern artists, especially Joos van Cleve and Lucas Cranach.
The subject itself, the rather gruesome one of the executioner placing the Baptist's head in a salver for the waiting Salome, was popular among Leonardo's followers, and many of the Milanese paintings of Salome probably derive from a lost composition by the master. These paintings depict the moment in the Gospel of Mark (6:2128) when the young Salome, daughter of Herod's wife Herodias, is granted her wish to have John the Baptist executed. Although this theme has been painted by numerous artistswith both full- and half-length figuresit is rare for the executioner to be so severely cropped that we see only his outstretched arm. This arm, with its clenched fist and rough drapery, is an unsettling synecdoche for the man as a whole.
Conspicuously signed in the lower right corner, the Salome is one of Solario's finest paintings and is completely characteristic of his style. It is worked up to a high finish, with some astonishing effects: the reflections and sheen of the silver basin, the transparent bodice of Salome's dress, the delicacy of description of the Baptist's head, and the marbling of the parapet. Above all, Salome's jewelry and the ornamentation of her dress are imagined and painted with the utmost precision and care.