The Image of Salome in Art in the 19th and 20th Centuries as a Symbol of Social Ideology

  • Abstract:
    The image of Salome has been central for works of art for centuries. At first it was an image that was annexed to St. John the Baptist’s Passion and then in the Renaissance and especially in the 19th century that image took life of its own.
    The image of Woman in the 19th century became central. We find it in the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who created a new type of Madonna and in the works of the bulk of 19th century artists, such as Gustave Moreau, Maurice Denis, Alphonse Mucha, Gustave Klimt, Fernand Khnopff, Edvard Munch. Usually, a woman with her penetrating glance and beautiful hair, was at once divine and earthly, divine and demonic. The theme of Woman dominated Symbolism. As in Christianity, there were two main tendencies. One represented an idealized woman, either distant or pure, chaste, and exceedingly religious. That image usually derived from the image of Virgin Mary. The other tended to represent Woman as a monster, the seducer and a destroyer of man, the symbol of evil and perversity, derived from Eve. Salome fits the latter. 3000 art works created in the 19th century and dedicated to Salome certainty demonstrate a fear of women who, in the nineteenth century, began to enter the workforce, became more active in life of society, and could be easily perceived by men as their competitors.
    In my paper I would like to use a few examples of images of Salome in visual arts to demonstrate, how, on the one hand, her image was used as a propaganda against women and was a symbol of separation and division between men and women in different European cultures in the 19th century, but on the other hand, how the change in social conditions of women and decrease in fear in the 20th century affected the evolution of the image of Salome in visual arts transforming her from a dangerous and seductive monster into either an image of innocent Beauty or a symbol of artistic experimentations or into a concept that disappeared from the art scene.