Dolci And The Counter Reformation Research Paper

Length: 5 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Art Type: Research Paper Paper: #11829637
Excerpt from Research Paper :

A Critical Analysis of Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist by Carlo Dolci

Carlo Dolci’s Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist (Illus. 1) is an oil on canvas painting housed in the Phoenix Art Museum. Completed in Florence, Italy, by Dolci in 1670, the painting reflects the style of the Baroque and the typical religious-historical type of subject associated with the Counter-Reformation underway throughout Europe as part of the Council of Trent’s mission to use art to reinforce the principles and doctrines of the Church at a time when Protestantism was undermining the Church’s teaching authority (Vidmar). Salome appears as though disinterested in the disembodied head, offering it up to the public as though it were a piece of overripe fruit that one may or may not like to partake of. Dolci’s use of light reinforces the idea that Salome is by no means to be taken as a conflicted woman—instead, her appearance follows in the Church’s traditional teaching of Salome as a femme fatale, a symbol of female seduction whose sensuous form leaves a trail of bodies in its wake (Barr). This paper will show how Dolci uses sociopolitical and religious allegory, tenebrism and chiaroscuro to dramatize the message—a Counter-Reformation warning, rather, for his contemporaries to beware the seducers of the modern era: a message that Dolci, as a pious Catholic (Galardi, Sframeli) meant to communicate to his European audience at a time when so many princes and kings were turning against the Pope and the Church founded by Christ and aligning themselves, as it were, with

Salome and Herod, the slayers of St. John and the enemies of God.

A devout Catholic, Dolci specialized in religious topics after the manner of Caravaggio (Galardi, Sframeli), using the chiaroscuro effect of heightening a single space on the canvas with a touch of light while casting the rest of the image in shadow or dark, neutral colors. The effect of this style of tenebrism is dramatic and enhances the theme in a way that evokes awe and wonder in the viewer. In Salome, Dolci contrasts the light and the dark not on the head of St. John the Baptist so much as on the chest, neck and face of Salome, which is half-turned away from the head of the saint held up on the silver platter. By Dolci’s use of chiaroscuro, the eyes of the viewer are thus drawn to the woman responsible...


Elegantly dressed in a 16th century gown, Salome appears clad not like the Salome of the New Testament but rather like a young woman of standing and high social class in the early modern era—in other words, a contemporary of Dolci’s era. But why does she look away? Her inability to view her work may indicate that there is something within her filling her with regret, remorse or some other feeling of dread as the gaze of the dead saint stares off into the space of eternity, voicing a reminder to her conscience that she too will soon see what it is that he is seeing now. However, the expression on her face suggests none of this—but rather that she feels no compunction whatsoever for the beheading of the saint and that she is aloof as to the relevance and significance of the moment.

Her detachment and indifference is described in the tilt of her head, which shows an affected nonchalance, a type of careless wantonness which is in line with her historical character. Dolci reinforces this character by throwing all of the light on the canvas towards her most seductive features—her chest, neck and face, which appears so serene and innocent and contrasts sharply with the grisly disembodied head that she holds aloft on the silver platter. Her tools that she uses to seduce are her features, which makes her fall in line with the concept of the loose woman of the medieval tradition, whose body is a trap to keep men from salvation (Barr). Her Biblical story recounts how she danced for Herod most seductively and he in a fit of lust told her he would give her whatever she wanted; then, at the urging of her mother who had been condemned by St. John for her incestuous relationship with Herod, Salome asked for St. John’s head on a platter. Thus, her story is encapsulated in Dolci’s use of lighting: he reminds his contemporaries (who undoubtedly would have been very familiar with her story) of her charms. Her gown is low cut and her shoulders are bare—a symbol of lasciviousness. Her alabaster neck shines like a light and her soft face and cheeks check the total disinterest seen in her eyes. It is a horrifying portrait of how indifferent a person can become and it is an indication of the need that Dolci and the Counter Reformation artists felt with respect to using their art as a reminder to their contemporaries not to be lured into a similar state by false teachers who were rising up all over Europe—from Luther to Calvin to Knox and Zwingli.…

Cite this Document:

"Dolci And The Counter Reformation" (2018, May 06) Retrieved January 23, 2022, from

"Dolci And The Counter Reformation" 06 May 2018. Web.23 January. 2022. <>

"Dolci And The Counter Reformation", 06 May 2018, Accessed.23 January. 2022,