We're standing in front of two paintings by Caravaggio that represent the same moment in the story of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.
This is the moment when Salome, whose beautiful dance enticed King Herod into her mother's desire to have John the Baptist killed, appears with the head of John the Baptist on a plate. And what Caravaggio has done in these two paintings is develop his idea of how sex can lead to death.
In the painting, we can see the young maid, and behind her is the old...the young maid, Salome, behind her is the old maid with this wrinkled face. This is the executioner (this is the painting from London) who's holding the head of the Baptist by the hair. And he has done that—Caravaggio—as though this one woman's body has two heads, beauty that led to death. This is his first version of the story.
Then in the picture in Madrid, he refined it, so that this hand here is ambiguous now as to whether it could be this woman's hand—Salome who looks at us directly to engage our attention—or the older woman's because the hand seems older. They're both looking down. It's a janus figure, two-headed sexual allure, the death that followed sin.
This young man and these women are paired because Caravaggio appreciated male beauty as much as he appreciated female beauty. So this is a whole universe of this sweaty, Sicilian summer in which he painted this at the end of his life.
We're interested in the other one from London. The other version is more aggressive.
That's a very good observation. It is very aggressive the earlier one. He's thinking about the force and terrible tragedy, drama of the beheaded. This is a moment when they're lost in a kind of a deep mood of reflection on the terrible thing that has happened.
It is generally thought that modern painting begins with Caravaggio, because Caravaggio is the first artist in the history of art about whom we feel, looking at these paintings, that all of his paintings are about himself.
Caravaggio's paintings are about his own life, his own moods. And we don't feel that with the great earlier artist like Titian. We don't wonder about the life of Titian or the life of Raffaello as we look at his paintings, but with Caravaggio we always think about his own life.
In this case, as they stand in this moment of the aftermath of a terrible act, the great Italian critic Roberto Longhi said, "This looks like a scene from a play by Shakespeare." The king and the queen and they have commanded this terrible act.
- 「關於、至於、提到」- As To
...so that this hand here is ambiguous now as to whether it could be this woman's hand—Salome who looks at us directly to engage our attention...