Herodias (Erodiade in Italian) was the wife of Herod Antipas, the Rome-appointed ruler of Galilee, and her conspiracy to arrange the execution of John the Baptist is related in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. Her marriage to Herod after being divorced from his half-brother Philip was publicly censured by John as a transgression, and he was thrown in jail for the insult. Salome, Herodias' daughter by her first husband, performed a dance that so pleased Herod at his birthday celebration, that he granted her any wish. Seeing an opportunity to revenge John's rebuke, Herodias urged her daughter to ask for the Baptist's head Despite Herod's reluctance, John's head was severed and presented to her on a platter.
A reflection of the Saint's importance in Christianity, the story of John's demise has often been represented in Western art, particularly during the Renaissance and the seventeenth century. In nineteenth century art, literature and music, interest in the subject re-emerged, as Salome and Herodias were transformed into femme fatale muses. Delacroix depicted the beheading of Saint John in 1844 as a three-figure composition in the library of the Palais Bourbon, and Gustave Moreau's first paintings of Salome date from the late 1860s. The Symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé, celebrated the femmes fatale in Herodiade (1864) and the novelist Gustave Flaubert's Trois Contes: Hérodias (1877) inspired Jules Massenet's 1881 opera Hérodiade. A testament to the fact that the subject sustained it's popularity through the end of the century, Oscar Wilde's drama Salomé (1893) was the basis of the opera of the same name by Richard Strauss, first staged in Paris in 1896.