Although Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist for speaking against his marriage to Herodias, the ruler admired the Baptist as a wise and righteous man. On the occasion of Herod’s birthday, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced before the guests, pleasing the host so much that he promised her anything she wanted. To Herod’s dismay, the young woman, following her mother’s wish, demanded the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although loathe to kill the Baptist, Herod acceded to this request.
In a commentary, Tissot noted that he found inspiration for his image of Salome’s acrobatic dance in ancient reliefs from sources as diverse as Egypt, India, and Persia as well as the reliefs of the Cathedral of Rouen in his native France.