The biblical tale of princess Salomé, daughter of Herod, is first told in the book of Matthew, but has since inspired many versions by playwrights, composers and filmmakers. The original story tells how Salomé performs the dance of the seven veils so beautifully at her father's birthday feast that he bids her choose a reward. Encouraged by her mother, Herodias, the princess asks for the head of John the Baptist to be presented to her on a silver platter.
One of the most famous reworkings of the tale, and the one which inspired the present work, was penned by Oscar Wilde in 1891. Written in French, early rehearsals were called to a halt when the production was banned by the British government, ostensibly for depicting biblical characters on stage, but almost certainly also for its overt sexuality. While the play was then published in 1893 in France and England, it was not performed until 1896.
It was in the midst of this heated debate and censorship that Louis Chalon, a prominent Parisian artist and sculptor, produced the present illustration of the biblical femme fatale. Placed in the centre of the composition, her beautiful looks, sensuous movements and delicate dress contrast sharply with the murder she has ordained: behind her we can see the head of John the Baptist on a platter. This balance of good and evil is emphasised by Chalon's depiction of doves, symbols of peace, fluttering through the palace. Salomé feeds a dove with one hand whilst holding an apple, the symbol of the first temptress, in the other.