Navigation for The Sunday Feature

The Cult of Salome 1870-1920


Around the turn of the 20th century there was something of a craze for wicked women, like Cleopatra, Salome and the vampires. These femmes fatales were reflected in the art of Klimt, Munch, and Moreau, as well as the music of Debussy, Schmitt and Strauss and the work of performers like Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari and Maud Allen.

Elric Hooper says the première of Richard Strauss’s opera Salome, in 1905 with its dance of the seven veils created an international scandal.

“Despite the initial perception of perversity in its action and harshness in its music, it has become embedded in our consciousness. In a world acclimatized to cruelty by constant war, to sexual frankness by Kraft Ebbing and Sigmund Freud and by the challenging music of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese school, the opera, Salome, whilst retaining its power, has ceased to be a shock to our sensibilities or a threat to our morals.

“The figure of Salome has inspired major works of art, in painting, sculpture, literature, theatre and, more recently, cinema, since the dawn of Christianity. Nevertheless, it is in Strauss’s one act opera, she lives most vibrantly.

“However this opera did not appear in isolation. It was in fact the Everest in a chain of Salome-inspired works. It was the culmination of a cult. It was the peak of an artistic fever which has been termed “Salomania’.”