According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee, a region in Palestine under the Roman Empire. John the Baptist incurred his wrath and was imprisoned, as he reprimanded Herod for divorcing his wife Phasaelis and unlawfully marrying Herodias, the divorced wife of his half brother Herod Philip and mother of Salome. According to John, the second marriage was incestuous and hence, unlawful. However, despite his extreme humiliation, the infuriated King could do nothing more but to send him to prison, as he was afraid to have the popular prophet killed.
On a later date, at a party arranged on the occasion of her father’s birthday, Salome won the heart of the guests by her dance recital. It made Herod was so happy and pleased that he promised his daughter anything that she wants.
At this, the girl consulted her mother and prompted by her mother, Herodias, who was infuriated by John’s condemnation of her marriage, the girl demanded the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter. This time, to keep his promise, Herod was forced to have John beheaded and Salome took the platter with John’s head and gave it to her mother.
From an early period, this Biblical story had been a favourite subject of Christian art and became especially popular during the Renaissance.
Salome had been strikingly portrayed by eminent painters, like Andrea Solario, Titian, Guido Reni, Peter Paul Rubens, Guercino, Artemisia Gentileschi and the others. Apart from painting, gradually the story also became a preferred subject of the poets, screenwriters and composers.
Based on the Biblical story, Oscar Wild wrote his one act play ‘Salome’, which was later translated by the German poet and translator Hedwig Lachmann and soon after was performed in Berlin at the Schall and Rauch Theatre. Richard Georg Strauss, a leading German composer, was so moved by the work that he used it with some cuts, as the text for his opera of the same name. In the opera, Herod was portrayed as lusting after Salome, while Salome, in her turn, desired John the Baptist. Finally, she satisfied her libido by kissing the lips of the severed head of John, the holy man and thus, Salome has become an erotic symbol in art.