Throughout the early part of the 20th century, an art and design movement known as Art Deco grew in popularity. First originating in France as Arts Décoratifs, it was characterized by its use of rich materials and amalgamation of different artistic styles, including Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Persian influences. Art Deco quickly gained influence, and shaped everything from architecture to car designs, with artists and designers working to achieve a sleek elegance that was distinctly modern. One artist who worked within the style was Boris Lovet-Lorski. Born in Lithuania in 1894, Lovet-Lorski gravitated towards the highly stylized and flattened aesthetic of the Art Deco movement, and throughout the 1920s and 30s he showcased his skills through allegorical female nudes sculpted in bronze.
Lovet-Lorski often found inspiration in antiquity and mythology, and Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist in SAM’s collection is no exception. Designed around 1930, the piece draws from the story of Salomé’s “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Salomé was the daughter of Herod II, prince of Judaea, and Herodias. Sometime after Salomé’s birth, Herodias chose to divorce Herod II and marry Herod Antipas (Herod II’s half-brother), a decision opposed by John the Baptist, who was imprisoned for his criticism. For Antipas’ birthday, he asked for his new step-daughter, Salomé, to perform a dance for him. Antipas was so taken with her skill and beauty that he agreed to grant her any wish. Fueled by her mother’s continuing anger towards John the Baptist for criticizing her divorce from Herod II and subsequent marriage to Antipas, Salomé asked for John the Baptist’s head, delivered to her on a platter.
In Lovet-Lorski’s work, Salomé is portrayed in the middle of her dance, erotic in her slinky half-split. As is often the case, Salomé takes on the role of a femme fatale, a seductive woman using her wiles for her own gain. This is emphasized by the Art Deco sleekness of the sculpture, as she hangs her head over the half-shown face of John the Baptist.
– Hayley Makinster, SAM Curatorial Intern