- Severed Head of John the Baptist
 
         
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Auguste Rodin 1840-1917
Severed Head of John the Baptist
Marble

19.4 x 37.3 x 30.6 cm

Signed Rodin in a cartouche on the side of the platter


Provenance:
- Sale, Paris, Galerie Charpentier, June 1954, lot 18
- Private collection, Paris

Comparative literature:
- J. Tancock, The sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Boston, 1976, n. 21, pp. 205-209. The version 21-3 reproduced p. 206 is probably our marble.
- A. Le Normand-Romain, The bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of works in the Musée Rodin, volume 2, Paris, 2007, pp. 645-648
- Rodin. La chair, le marbre, exh. cat., Musée Rodin, Paris, June 2012 – March 2013, cat. 9


Rodin conceived the Head of John the Baptist in 1887 and the present marble was likely carved by Jacques Barthélémy between 1888 and 1892. It will be included in the forthcoming catalogue of August Rodin’s work published by the Comité Rodin and prepared by Jérôme Le Blay under the number 2008-1887B.

Rodin used the theme of Saint John the Baptist recurrently, as did his contemporaries. He first handled the theme in 1878, with a powerful full-length statue, then placed a severed head adapted from that sculpture in the angle of the upper right-hand part of the Gates of Hell. This was followed, in 1887, by the Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Platter. This dramatic work suggests the precise moment when the severed head was presented to Salome, with the saint’s mouth open and his hair dishevelled. It shows the head of John the Baptist in profile, laying on its right side and placed in a platter partially covered by the saint’s hair that is swept back from his forehead. A striking image, between Symbolism and realism, is corresponded perfectly to contemporary sensibilities, as demonstrated by Judith Cladel’s comments when she saw a plaster version of it: “This mask, of refined and sorrowful beauty, finely detailed as if worked by an Italian Renaissance carver, with eyes closed and lips parted by the flight of the final sigh, compels silence” .

The first Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Platter in marble was exhibited in 1889 during the “Monet-Rodin” exhibition at the Galerie George Petit in Paris. The model met with great success and Rodin created variants, placing the hair in different positions (the precise number of marble variants is unknown, A. Le Normand-Romain lists 10). A marble in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum features the hair falling forward to cover part of the platter. Two further marble heads are in public collections, one in the Kulturhistorisches Museum in Magdeburg and the other in the Musée Garinet in Châlons-sur-Marne. Rodin also made a severed head of Saint John the Baptist placed on an oval disc and facing upwards with its eyes closed. That model was cast in silver and made into a pendant for Judith Clavel.

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