Aubrey Beardsley

The English artist Aubrey Beardsley, in my opinion, is really interesting. He mainly focused on creating illustration and graphic design artworks. His artwork goes under the time period of Art Nouveau, a decorative art style from 1890 to 1910 that experimented with curves, spirals, and unique font styles.

Additionally, some of Beardsley’s work had the idea of Romanticism incorporated in it (even though he wasn’t in the time period of Romanticism). The idea of Romanticism in art was emphasizing the bad in the world. It highlighted things that need to be changed, and things that were wrong with the world. There were some artists who did incorporate romantic aspects into their works, but many focused on exploiting the wrong/corrupt. Additionally, Beardsley messed around with the idea of evil and eroticism in his works.

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 1893

Beardsley, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 1893

Beardsley’s Salome with the Head of John the Baptist is an illustration created with India ink and watercolor. It is extremely grotesque, especially because of the way the white and black colors are portrayed. This illustration focuses on the biblical story of the aftermaths of the beheading of John the Baptist.

In the story, Herod, who was in charge of the city Galilee, took and married his brother’s wife, Herodias. John the Baptist spoke out against this and explained that it was wrong to take your brother’s wife. Because of this, John was imprisoned. At Herod’s birthday feast, his step daughter, Salome, danced for him, and he promised her anything she desired. Salome’s mother told her to ask Herod for the head of John the Baptist, and that’s when Herod beheaded John.

In this illustration, Salome is dominantly holding St. John the Baptist’s head. Here she is perceived as very manly and a bit evil/freaky looking. She is holding John’s head as though she has all control and power since she had the ability to get him beheaded. On the bottom there is a phrase in French saying, ” I kissed your mouth, John. I kissed your mouth.” This phrase and Salome’s satisfied expression is a representation of Beardsley’s use of eroticism.

John can be seen as more feminine and pure. He appears more calm, he’s less surrounded by the circle black shapes and presents more lighter features. His head is dripping something, which may be his blood, and this has created a lily (possibly a sign of purity). In addition, there are spirally and circular features integrated throughout the work, signifying Beardsley’s influence from the decorative style of Art Nouveau.

This is definitely an odd piece to look at because of it’s layers. Beardsley is representing a story about a saint, but he plays with the idea of dominant traits in women of power and feminine traits of men. What’s great about him, though, is that he was interested in the adventure of discovering and exploring something new in art.

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