The painting depicts a biblical subject from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew with the stories of Herodias and her daughter Salome.
During the birthday celebrations of Herod Antipas, Salome’s stepfather, the young lady dances for him, amusing Herod and his guests during the rich feast. To reward his stepdaughter, Herod promises to give her anything she wants. Salome, pushed by her mother, asks for the head of St. John the Baptist, who had strongly condemned Herod and his lover’s behavior. John the Baptist was killed and Salome gave the head to her mother on a silver plate.
The painting depicts the moment right before. Beautiful and elegant Salome has a refined silver cup on her hands while the man next to her holds the hair on severed head of John the Baptist which is resting on the cup.
Salome is looking towards an elderly woman with veiled head, who is probably her maid and she is about to pass the cup to her.
The young girl and the evil executioner have almost caricatural facial features, unlike John’s bloodless and cadaverous face, which is in strong contrast with Salome’s delicate beauty and her precious and elegant dress.
The face of the girl, whose gentle smile contradicts with the brutality of the act, is often compared to an artwork known as La Scapiliata, one of the most famous drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. The Sanguine paper, now preserved in Galleria Nazionale of Parma, represents a head of a graceful young lady and it dates around 1508.
The reference to Leonardo’s work is by no means casual. Luini was, in fact, one of his most faithful Lombard followers, and da Vinci’s work influenced the art in northern Italy during his stay in Milan in the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century, 1482 – 1500 and 1508 – 1513. The Tuscan master’s influence was also visible in Luini’s other works, often of religious subject, such as Madonna and Child, or biblical works like this one. The soft colors recall Venetian tradition and they create general blurred effect, which was typical of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting. The artwork was first attributed to the Tuscan master for this reason.
The painting was quite successful and Luini painted at least six versions of the subject. Some are now preserved in Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, Louvre in Paris, Prado in Madrid and Museum of Fine Arts of Boston.
The work has been in the Uffizi Galleries since 1793 when it was exchanged with the Imperial Gallery of Vienna. At the time Florence was governed by the House of Lorraine, who were also the Grand Dukes of Austria. When it arrived at Uffizi it was attributed to Leonardo and only in the beginning of the 20th century a French art historian Pierre Gauthiez attributed it to Bernardino Luini.
The painting, which, according to some hypotheses, represents Herodias and not Salome, has been restored in 1977.
Gli Uffizi. Catalogo generale, Firenze, Centro Di 1979; Giovanni Agosti, Jacopo Stoppa, Bernardino Luini e i suoi figli, Officina Libraria, Milano, 2014
Bernardino Luini was born in Dumenza near Luino between 1481 and 1482. Details of his life have been only emerged recently, even though there are still many open questions. He was the son of Donato di Bernardo de Schapis also known as Monlone. It is not known whether Bernardino was born from the first or second marriage. He lived in Dumenza until 1489 taking care of the family farm and then following his father in Milan around 1500 (a document from 1500 indicates his stay in Milan in the parish of S. Carpoforo).
In 1504 he married Margherita de Lomatio and they had four children, of whom two became painters. On a document Lomazzo recalls him Giovan Stefano Scotto’s student together with Gaudenzio Ferrari, whereas some other sources recall him as Gaudenzio’s master. Vasari mentions him in both editions of Lives (1550-1568) in Boccaccino’s biography describing him “very delicate” artist. Bernardino was one of the biggest followers of Leonardo’s painting, whose works he interpreted in his own works.
His works were deeply admired until the nineteenth century, particularly by the French school at the end of the century and they returned to limelight when Roberto Longhi, one of the greatest art historians of the twentieth century, made a modern revaluation (ca. 1940) and described Luini as not a shameless imitator of Leonardo’s work but a “misunderstood” independent painter, who should be among the greatest artists in the history of art.
He probably traveled to Rome to study during the first decade of the sixteenth century and immediately after to Treviso in Veneto. After his return to Milan he worked mainly for private commissions and he came into contact with new Lombard masters such as Zenale and especially Bramantino. During this period, he made the frescoes of the Villa de La Pelucca near Sesto San Giovanni, commissioned by Gerolamo Rabia, and those in the Palazzo di Piazza S. Sepolcro in Milan (both have been detached and they are preserved today in Pinacoteca di Brera, Gemaldegalerie of Berlin and National Gallery of Washington).
Between 1510 and 1512 he worked at Certosa di Pavia. During this period he made the famous Madonna del Roseto of Pinacoteca di Brera, a perfect mix of Zenale and Leonardo’s styles.
Bernardino’s later works are characterized by greater depth and more persuasive style, which were certainly influenced by his trip to Rome and his encounter with Raphael.
Around 1521-1523 he began to work on the frescoes depicting St. Maurice at Monastero Maggiore in Milan. The frescoes were commissioned by Alessandro Bentivoglio and Ippolita Sforza, whose coat of arms are visible, and they were inspired by Central-Italian art and at some parts even by Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel.
His following work was the cycle of frescoes for the Maggiore chapel of the sanctuary of Saronno, and the frescoes in Santa Maria degli Angeli of Lugano, dated 1529, which recalled the theatrical works by Gaudenzio Ferrari. During these years he received numerous commissions from private buyers, which are nowadays spread all over the world in public and private collections.
Bernardino Luini died on 1 July in 1532.
The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.
The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.
The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.
The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.
Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.
After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.
During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.
In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.
The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.
In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.