The fresco by Filippo Lippi “Feast of Herod” (1466) is located in the Prato Cathedral. It tells about the death of St. John the Baptist. He was imprisoned in the prison of King Herod. And one day he had a feast. He began to persuade his stepdaughter Salome to dance for him and his guests. He promised her whatever she wanted.
Herodias, Salome’s mother, persuaded the young woman to demand John’s head as a reward. Which she did. She danced while the saint was executed. Then they gave her his head on a platter. It was this dish that she presented to her mother and King Herod.
We see that the space of the picture is like a “comic strip”: three important “points” of the gospel plot are inscribed in it at once. Center: Salome is performing the dance of the seven veils. Left – she receives the head of John the Baptist. On the right – she is presenting it to Herod.
By the way, you can’t see Herod himself right away. If Salome is recognizable even by her costume, and Herodias attracts attention with an expressive gesture of a pointing hand, then there are doubts about Herod.
Is this nondescript man to her right in gray-blue robes, who manly turns away from the terrible “gift” of Salome, is the king of Judah?
So Filippo Lippi deliberately emphasized the insignificance of this “king”, who obeyed the orders of Rome and recklessly promised the seductive stepdaughter whatever she wanted.
The fresco is built according to all the laws of linear perspective. This is intentionally accentuated by the floor pattern. But Salome, who is the main character here, is NOT in the center! Guests of the feast are sitting there.
The master moved the young woman to the left. Thus, creating the illusion of movement. We expect Salome to be in the center soon.
But to draw attention to her, Lippi highlights her with color. Her figure is the lightest and brightest spot in the fresco. So at the same time we understand that it is necessary to start “reading” the fresco from the central part.
An interesting solution of the artist was to make the figures of the musicians translucent. So he made sure that we are focused on the main thing, without being distracted by the details. But at the same time, due to their silhouettes, we can present the lyrical music that sounded within those walls.
And one more important moment. The artist used only three primary colors (gray, ocher and dark blue), achieving an almost monochrome effect and a uniform color rhythm.
However, Lippi created the illusion through color that there is more light in the center. And this is the point in time when you can still fix it. The young, angelically beautiful Salome almost hovers, her sparkling robes fluttering. And only bright red shoes keep this figure on the ground.
But now she has already touched the mystery of death, and her clothes, hands, face darkened. This is what we see in the scene on the left. Salome is a submissive daughter. The tilt of the head is evidence of this. She herself is a victim. No wonder then she will come to repentance.
And now her terrible gift amazed everyone. And if the musicians on the left side of the fresco are still playing brass, accompanying the dance. Then the group on the right already fully reflects the emotions. The young woman in the corner felt sick. And the young man picked her up, ready to take her away from this terrible feast.
The poses and gestures of the guests express disgust and horror. Hands went up in a rejection gesture: “I am not participating in this!” And only Herodias is content and calm. She is pleased. And she indicated to whom to pass the dish with his head. To her husband Herod.
Despite the shocking plot, Filippo Lippi remains an esthete. And even Herodias is beautiful.
With light contours, the artist outlined the height of the foreheads, the slenderness of the legs, the softness of the shoulders and the grace of the hands. This also gives the fresco musicality and dance rhythms. And the scene on the right is like a pause, a sharp caesura. A moment of sudden silence.
Yes, Lippi works like a musician. His work is absolutely harmonious from a musical point of view. Balance of sound and silence (after all, not a single hero has an open mouth).
For me, this work of Filippo Lippi has not been fully solved. Who is this domineering man on the left?
Most likely, this is a guard. But you must admit: too majestic a figure for an ordinary servant.
Is it John the Baptist in glory?
And if Herod, then why is he so great? After all, not because of status, and even more so not out of a desire to comply with the laws of perspective, he was given such majestic features.
Or maybe the artist was looking for an excuse for him? Or, with his silent severity, he accused everyone who succumbed to temptations and could not resist. In general, there is something to think about …
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