Herodias with the Head of Saint John the Baptist

about 1625–30
Francesco del Cairo (Italian (Lombardy), 1598–1674)


119.4 x 95.3 cm (47 x 37 1/2 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

William I. Koch Gallery (Gallery 250)


Europe, Prints and Drawings



Herodias was enraged with John the Baptist for preaching against her marriage to Herod, the brother of her first husband. According to the New Testament, she instructed her daughter Salome to ask Herod for the Baptist’s head as a reward for her dancing. A text by Saint Jerome recounts that when Herodias received the severed head, she pierced the Baptist’s tongue with a needle. In this painting, Cairo made the macabre subject even more disturbing through dramatic lighting and the vivid realism with which he portrayed Herodias swooning in ecstasy as she mutilates the tongue that spoke against her.


Louis Philippe (b. 1773 - d. 1850), King of the French. By 1853, Henry Jacob Bigelow (b. 1818 - d. 1890), Boston [see note 1]; by descent to his son, William Sturgis Bigelow (b. 1850 - d. 1926), Boston; 1926, bequest of William Sturgis Bigelow to the MFA. (Accession Date: December 20, 1926)

[1] In 1853, Bigelow lent this painting to the Boston Athenaeum, where it was exhibited as a work by Caravaggio.

Credit Line

William Sturgis Bigelow Collection