The paintings Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist, by Guido Reni and Cupid Chastised, by Bartolomeo Manfredi are both 17th century visual representations of a story. The story behind Salome is the interesting biblical story of the beheading of St. John the Baptist, as it’s title suggests. The story goes that Salome performed a dance for the king and his guests. Herod Antipas saw Salome’s dance and was so impressed, and drunk, that he promised to give her whatever she asked of him. After consulting her mother, Salome asks Herod for the head of John the Baptist. Herod delivered on his promise, and had the head of John the Baptist delivered to her on a platter, as she asked. Reni’s painting depicts a contented Salome being presented with the head of the martyr by a servant boy. (Wikipedia)
Cupid Chastised tells a Greco- Roman mythological story. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, had been having an affair with Mars, the god of war. Accordingly, Mars takes his anger out on Cupid, (again, the title is suggests the story), the god of desire, for creating the adulterous attraction. Manfredi’s painting depicts the very moment of Cupid’s chastisement, with Venus there trying to abate Mars’ violent actions. (ARTIC)
The two paintings, as well as their respective narratives, have several similarities and differences. Both paintings use color as a symbolic device that parallels the attitudes found in both the painting and their story. Both painters made use of balance in color and value. The perimeters of Reni’s Salome are cool with muted shades, while the center of the composition is warmer and brighter. The background is gray, and both servants are wearing green. The servant holding up the decapitated head of John the Baptist graduates from pale green attire to gray/green lower extremities, details fading out along with the color. The cool green and grays that surrounds Salome can symbolize her cool, calm, staid disposition, and almost blasé attitude in light of what is before her, the head of a dead man. The two women in the back left of the plane are wearing more vibrant colors but are muted by a shadow.
Salome is the focal point of the piece, therefore receiving more light and wearing brighter colors than the other figures in the painting. She and the head of John the Baptist are the only figures that are not crossed by a pronounced shadow, both are illuminated by the light that extends from the right of the composition. This value construction puts emphasis on the two main characters, the figures that hold the most narrative weight.
Goldish yellow, pink and white are the colors of Salome’s dress. The yellow in Salome’s dress can be taken as a reflection of her confident and satisfied posture and facial expression. Pink can symbolize femininity or sexuality, a major factor behind the events of the story. For it was Salome’s display of these qualities, in her dance, that moved Herod so much as to grant her any request. These...