Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist

Caravaggioabout 1609-10

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London
London, United Kingdom

The story of the death of John the Baptist is related in the Gospel of Mark (6: 16–29). John had criticised King Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias, and she sought revenge. At Herod’s birthday feast, Herodias’s daughter Salome so delighted the King by her dancing that he promised her anything she wanted. Encouraged by her mother, she asked for the Baptist’s head, and the King had John executed.

This is a late work by Caravaggio, probably painted towards the end of his life. He has reduced the story to its essentials, focusing on the human tragedy and conveying the scene’s emotional power through a restricted range of colour, pronounced chiaroscuro and dramatic gesture. The brutish executioner places John’s head on a salver held by Salome, whose serious expression and sidelong glance are enigmatic. An elderly maidservant clasps her hands in grief, setting the emotional tone. Characteristic of Caravaggio’s mature works, the composition appears simple but actually hides a sophisticated physical and psychological interplay between the main protagonists.


  • Title: Salome receives the Head of John the Baptist
  • Creator: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
  • Date Created: about 1609-10
  • Physical Dimensions: 91.5 x 106.7 cm
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • School: Italian
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Artist Dates: 1571 - 1610
  • Artist Biography: Caravaggio was probably born in Milan; he studied there under Simone Peterzano. From 1592/3 he worked in Rome, briefly in the workshop of the Cavaliere d'Arpino, and received commissions for important altarpieces. In 1606 he killed a man in a duel and fled to Naples, he then travelled to Malta (1608), Sicily and Naples (1608-9); on his way back to Rome he died of fever at Porto Ercole.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1970

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