Artibus et Historiae no. 79 (XL)

2019, ISSN 0391-9064

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VICTORIA S. REED - Decapitation, Devotion, and Desire in Titian’s Salome (pp. 89–115)

The unusual iconography of Titian’s Salome at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome (c. 1515–1516) has long puzzled art historians. In recent years, some have argued that the painting represents Judith with the head of Holofernes, or that it has no definable subject matter at all. Early documentary evidence, however, overwhelmingly suggests that the subject of Titian’s painting was intended and understood as Salome. The painting’s iconography is elusive because it does not depend on one textual source, such as the Gospels. Much like Giorgione before him, Titian drew upon composite literary and artistic traditions for his work. The present article reviews the evidence offered by early inventories that the Doria Pamphilj painting was understood as Salome and explores the work’s iconographic foundations in northern Italian, devotional images of Salome and Giorgione’s paintings of David and Judith. It examines artistic and literary representations of love and dismemberment in the early Cinquecento. Finally, Titian’s Salome is placed in the context of his paintings of beautiful women, which incorporate poetic themes and motifs. In his Salome, Titian synthesizes references not just to the work of his contemporaries in the field of painting, but to the poets and writers of his day, aligning his own achievements with some of the most popular poetic representations of the tragic power of love.

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