Highly selective in his palette, Reni depicted this gory event with rhythmic grace, soft modeling, and elegant remove. –Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, Art Institute Chicago
You arrange to meet him in Gallery
211 at 2:11pm and make sure to
arrive early. The gallery turns out
to be the one with Cupid Chastised
and Melancholia, with saints
and gods, entombments
and crucifixions, with the severed
tongue of St. Romanus of Antioch
held aloft. You consider where
to position yourself and decide
almost immediately on Guido Reni’s
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.
And despite its subject, this is a restful
work, and you anticipate losing yourself
in the pink folds of her draperies,
the repose of her face. Everyone
in the painting is expressionless,
as if the beheading happened without
blood and violence, as if it were a gift
easily given. His face might be marble,
her hand resting in his hair the only
human touch, the only hint at underlying
emotion. You thought at first
that you could remain this controlled,
that there would be a sense of grace.
You spend this moment with Salome,
will revisit her remove when needed.
Jen Finstrom is an adjunct instructor at DePaul University in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Department and is also Outreach Coordinator at DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL). She was the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine for thirteen years, and recent publications include Escape Into Life and MockingHeart Review. Her work also appears in Silver Birch Press’s Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks and other Silver Birch Press anthologies.
Artwork: Guido Reni, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, c. 1639/42, Chicago Art Institute.