Tuesday, June 7, 2011
"Vice Pioneers": Salome
Salomé, by Henri Regnault (1870)
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Titian, c 1515 (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome)
Salome (2003), by A.Voytovych
I visted The Met a few weeks ago to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit and while waiting in the line, I came across the Regnault painting above. I loved it even though I didn't get to really look into it or the subject matter. And that was it. Now weeks later, while looking up some info on stripping for today's "Vice Pioneers", it popped up again. Salome, the subject matter for this painting, is quite the character so I thought I'd hold off on the stripping. For today, we'll just delve into Salome and her Dance of the Seven Veils, which is considered by many the first striptease.
From Wikipedia: "Salome (Greek: Σαλωμη, Salōmē), the Daughter of Herodias (c AD 14 - between 62 and 71), is known from the New Testament (Mark 6:17-29 and Matt 14:3-11, where, however, her name is not given). Another source from Antiquity, Flavius Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, gives her name and some detail about her family relations.
Her name in Hebrew is שלומית (Shlomiẗ, IPA: [ʃlomiθ]) and is derived from the root word ŠLM (שלם), meaning "peace".
Christian traditions depict her as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness, for instance depicting as erotic her dance mentioned in the New Testament (in some later transformations further iconised to the dance of the seven veils), or concentrate on her lighthearted and cold foolishness that, according to the gospels, led to John the Baptist's death.
A new ramification was added by Oscar Wilde, who in his play Salome portrayed her as something of a femme fatale. This last interpretation, made even more memorable by Richard Strauss's opera based on Wilde, is not consistent with Josephus's account; according to the Romanized Jewish historian, she lived long enough to marry twice and raise several children. Few literary accounts elaborate the biographical data given by Josephus.
According to Mark 6:21-29 (Salome is not mentioned by name in this passage so reference is incomplete), Salome was the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas. Salome danced before Herod and her mother Herodias at the occasion of his birthday, and in doing so gave her mother the opportunity to obtain the head of John the Baptist. According to Mark's gospel Herodias bore a grudge against John for stating that Herod's marriage to Herodias was unlawful; Herodias encouraged Salome to demand that John be executed.
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:21-29, KJV)
A parallel passage to Mark 6:21-29 is in the Gospel of Matthew 14:6-11: "But on Herod's birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them: and pleased Herod. Whereupon he promised with an oath, to give her whatsoever she would ask of him. But she being instructed before by her mother, said: Give me here in a dish the head of John the Baptist. And the king was struck sad: yet because of his oath, and for them that sat with him at table, he commanded it to be given. And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
And his head was brought in a dish: and it was given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body, and buried it, and came and told Jesus. (Matt 14:6-11, D-R)"
Some ancient Greek versions of Mark read "Herod's daughter Herodias" (rather than "daughter of the said Herodias"). To scholars using these ancient texts, both mother and daughter had the same name. However, the Latin Vulgate Bible translates the passage as it is above, and western Church Fathers therefore tended to refer to Salome as "Herodias's daughter" or just "the girl". Nevertheless, because she is otherwise unnamed in the Bible, the idea that both mother and daughter were named Herodias gained some currency in early modern Europe.
This Salome is not considered to be the same person as Salome the disciple, who is a witness to the Crucifixion of Jesus in Mark 15:40.
Salome in the arts
Salome has become a symbol for dangerous female seductiveness. Her dance before Herod, or with the head of John the Baptist on a charger have provided inspiration for Christian artists.
Despite Josephus's account, she was not consistently called Salome until the nineteenth century, when Gustave Flaubert (following Josephus) referred to her as Salome in his short story "Herodias".
Painting and sculpture
Salome and the Apparition of the Baptist's Head, watercolor by Gustave MoreauThis Biblical story has long been a favourite of painters. Painters who have done notable representations of Salome include Titian, Henri Regnault, Georges Rochegrosse, Gustave Moreau, Federico Beltran-Masses and Alexander Voytovych. Titian's version (illustration c.1515) emphasizes the contrast between the innocent girlish face and the brutally severed head. Because of the maid by her side, this Titian painting is also considered to be Judith with the Head of Holofernes. Unlike Salome who goes nameless in the Christian bible, Judith is a Judeo-Christian mythical patriot whose story is perhaps less psychological and being a widow, may not be particularly girlish nor innocent in representations. In Moreau's version (illustration, left) the figure of Salome is emblematic of the femme fatale, a fashionable trope of fin-de-siecle decadence. In his 1884 novel À rebours Frenchman Joris-Karl Huysmans describes, in somewhat fevered terms, the depiction of Salome in Moreau's painting:
No longer was she merely the dancing-girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles, - a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning.
Oscar Wilde's play
Salomé's story was made the subject of a play by Oscar Wilde that premiered in Paris in 1896, under the French name Salomé. In Wilde's play, Salome takes a perverse fancy for John the Baptist, and causes him to be executed when John spurns her affections. In the finale, Salome takes up John's severed head and kisses it.
Because at the time British law forbade the depiction of Biblical characters on stage, Wilde wrote the play originally in French, and then produced an English translation (titled Salome). To this Granville Bantock composed incidental music, which was premiered at the Court Theatre, London, on 19 April 1918.
Wilde's Salome has often been made into a film, notably a 1923 silent film, Salome, starring Alla Nazimova in the title role and a 1988 Ken Russell play-within-a-film treatment, Salome's Last Dance, which also includes Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas as characters. Steven Berkoff filmed his stage version of the play in 1988.
In the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, the principal character Norma Desmond is portrayed as writing a screenplay for a silent film treatment of the legend of Salome, attempting to get the screenplay produced, and performing one of the scenes from her screenplay after going mad.
IMDB lists at the very least 25 Salome/Salomé films, and numerous resettings of the Salome story to modern times.
Dance of the Seven Veils
In several notable works of Western culture, the Dance of the Seven Veils (usually described as danced by Salome) is one of the elaborations on the biblical tale of the execution of John the Baptist. Details enriching the story in later Christian mythology include providing a name for the dance, and describing the purpose of the dance as being to inflame King Herod with incestuous desire so that he would treat John as she wished.
According to ten verses of Matthew 14, John was imprisoned for criticizing King Herod Antipas's marriage to Herodias, the former wife of Antipas' "brother" Herod Philip I. Herod offered his niece a reward of her choice for performing a dance on his birthday. Herodias persuaded her daughter to ask for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Against his better judgment, Antipas reluctantly acceded to her request.
Possible origin in pre-Christian myths
The Dance of the Seven Veils is also thought to have originated with the myth of the goddess Ishtar and the god Tammuz of Assyrian and Babylonian lore. In this myth, Ishtar decides to visit her sister, Ereshkigal, in the underworld. When Ishtar approaches the gates of the underworld, the gatekeeper lets Ishtar pass through the seven gates, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Ishtar has to shed an article of clothing. When she finally passes the seventh gate, she is naked. In a rage, Ishtar throws herself at Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld; but Ereshkigal orders her servant Namtar to imprison Ishtar and unleash sixty diseases against her. After Ishtar descends to the underworld, all sexual activity ceases on earth. Papsukkal, the messenger-god, reports the situation to Ea, king of the gods. Ea creates a eunuch called Asu-shu-namir and sends him to Ereshkigal, telling him to invoke "the name of the great gods" against her and to ask for the bag containing the waters of life. Ereshkigal, having promised to grant Asu-shu-namir's wish, is enraged when she hears the demand, but she has to give him the water of life. Asu-shu-namir sprinkles Ishtar with this water, reviving her. Then Ishtar passes back through the seven gates, getting one article of clothing back at each gate, and is fully clothed as she exits the last gate. Her release is, however, granted only under the condition that she find someone to replace her in the underworld. Tammuz, Ishtar's husband, has been making merry while she has been dead, and so the goddess sends Tammuz to Ereshkigal."