In this gruesome picture Alfred Janes painted the Bible story of Salome and her mother Herodias and their plot to kill John the Baptist. He painted it in 1938 when he was 27 in his home town of Swansea. He produced many paintings at this time that were balanced and full of pattern.
The story is that when Salome danced for King Herod he said he would give her whatever she asked as a reward. She and her mother decided to ask for the head of John the Baptist because he had argued with her mother. Herod could not break his promise so he had John killed and gave his head to Salome on a plate. The story was often a subject for artists. It has been made into plays, operas, ballets and films.
Janes used balance to express the coldness of the plot between Salome and Herodias. He made the two figures almost exact reflections of one another at 90 degrees. Everything lines up exactly between the two women – their eyebrows, their mouths, their hairlines, their necklines, their waists.
However, all the symmetry in the picture is between the two women. Everything else feels unbalanced and strange to suit the horrible story.
Janes was very interested in pattern. The textiles of the curtain and clothes have repeated shapes almost like mosaics. There are lots of patterns to find if you look very closely:
- The pattern repeated and rotated on the curtain is the head of a man with a sword to his neck.
- On Herodias’s dress the pattern is John’s head with spreading swords beneath it.
- On Salome’s coat it is John’s head face to face, rotated.
- The loop of red beads in Herodias’s necklace matches where John’s head was cut off.
- The red is also around Salome’s waist and in the pool of blood in the plate.