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by [?]

That night she danced before Herod Antipas, and when the promise was recalled that she should have anything she wished, she named the head of the only man who had ever turned away from her–“The head of John the Baptist on a charger!”

In an hour the wish is gratified. Two eunuchs stand before Salome with a silver tray bearing its fearsome burden. The woman smiles–a smile of triumph–as she steps forth with tinkling feet. A look of pride comes over the painted face. Her jeweled fingers reach into the blood-matted hair. She lifts the head aloft, and the bracelets on her brown, bare arms fall to her shoulders, making strange music. Her face presses the face of the dead. In exultation she exclaims, “I have kissed thy lips!”

The most famous picture by Botticelli is the “Spring,” now in the Academy at Florence. The picture has given rise to endless inquiry, and the explanation was made in the artist’s day, and is still made, that it was painted to illustrate a certain passage in Lucretius. This innocent little subterfuge of giving a classic turn to things in art and literature has allowed many a man to shield his reputation and gloss his good name. When Art relied upon the protecting wing of the Church, the poet-painters called their risky little things, “Susannah and the Elders,” “The Wife of Uriah,” or “Pharaoh’s Daughter.” Lucas van Leyden once pictured a Dutch wench with such startling and realistic fidelity that he scandalized a whole community, until he labeled the picture, “Potiphar’s Wife.”

When the taste for the classics began to be cultivated, we had “Leda and the Swan,” “Psyche,” “Phryne Before the Judges,” “Aphrodite Rising From the Sea,” and, later, England experienced quite an artistic eruption of Lady Godivas. Literature is filled with many such naive little disguises as “Sonnets From the Portuguese,” and Robert Browning himself caught the idea and put many a maxim into the mouth of another, for which he preferred not to stand sponsor.

Botticelli painted the “Spring” for Lorenzo the Magnificent, to be placed in the Medici villa at Castello. The picture, it will be remembered, represents seven female figures, a flying cupid, and a youth. The youth is a young man of splendid proportions; he stands in calm indifference with his back to the sparsely clad beauties, and reaches into the branches of a tree for the plenteous fruit. This youth is a composite portrait of Botticelli and his benefactor, Lorenzo. The women were painted from life, and represent various favorites and beauties of the court. The drawing is faulty, the center of gravity being lost in several of the figures, and the anatomy is of a quality that must have given a severe shock to the artist’s friend, Leonardo. Yet the grace, the movement and the joyous quality of Spring are in it all. It is a most fascinating picture, and we can well imagine the flutter it produced when first exhibited four hundred years ago.

Two figures in the picture challenge attention. One of these represents approaching maternity–a most daring thing to attempt. This feature seems to belong to the School of Hogarth alone–a school which, let us pray, is hopelessly dead.

Cimabue and several of his pupils painted realistic pictures representing Mary visiting Elizabeth, but the intense religious zeal back of them was a salt that saved from offending. Occasionally, the staid and sober Dutch successfully attempted the same theme, and their stolidity stood for them as religious zeal had done for the early Italians–we pardon them simply because they knew no better than to choose a subject that is beyond the realm of art.

The restorers and engravers have softened down Botticelli’s intent, which was originally well defined, but we can easily see that the effect was delicate and spiritual. The woman’s downcast gaze is full of tenderness and truth. That figure when it was painted was history, and must have had a very tender interest for two persons at least. Had the painter dared to suggest motherhood in that other figure–the one with the flowered raiment–he would have offended against decency, and the art-sense of the world would have stricken his name from the roster of fame forever, and made him anathema. More has been written and said, and more copies made of that woman in the flowered dress in the “Spring” than of any other portrait I can remember, save possibly the “Mona Lisa.”