The myth of Jewish princess Salomé has a particular impact on the visual arts in the last third of the nineteenth century until the triumph of Art Déco in the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs (Paris, 1925). This is because it feeds off one of the myths inherent in the new century: that of the femme fatale and triggers a taste for ornamental profusion based on the arabesque which it makes its own and with which finisecular Symbolism identifies.
The exhibition Salomé. A contemporary myth, 1875-1925 unfolds as an iconographic journey of this character, emphasising her feminine nature and sensual virtues. To do this the exhibition uses contemporary literary and musical references, since the collection is part of the Madrid Autumn Festival dedicated precisely to the figure of Salomé. In addition, the exhibition includes a film cycle which shows film versions produced by filmmakers about this biblical episode: Alla Nizamova, Charles Bryant, Georg Wilhelm Pascht or Pedro Almodovar.
With over ninety works (paintings, drawings, engravings, sketches, posters, photographs and sculptures), this exhibition outlines the reinvention of the myth of Salomé from a fine arts perspective. The figure of Gustave Moreau takes on an almost founding role as in the 1870s he launches the iconography and the meanings of Salomé that are to remain over the next fifty years. The emphasis of representing the young lady as a dancer leads to her consideration as an example of a complete work, a concept especially relevant in the late-Romanesque scene, as its representation allows for the collection of temporal and spatial arts: dance, music, theatre and stage.
The exhibition is presented at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and is organised into two sections, the first presents the reinvention of myth in the visual arts during the specified period, and the second its diffusion through the performing arts, with posters, stage design sketches and photographs of some of its actors. It influences the role of dance (and on cinema from the Twenties) as well as the environment that, from 1905 onwards, spreads successively, recreating and rewriting the story of Salomé. Patricia Molins, curator of the exhibition draws attention to the opportunities that are opened up for dancers such as Loïe Fuller and to the appearance of numerous dance companies in the early twentieth century. This suggests how the finisecular battle of the sexes, between “logos” and matter, shifts to the identity of movement, ornament and lightness. This phenomenon coincides, as noted by film critic Peter Wollen, with the birth of psychoanalysis and the foundation of the suffragette movement, in that way these are the first steps towards the recognition of woman as a psychological and social individual.