Thursday, July 9, 2015
This week I searched the internet for images depicting the beheading of John the Baptist. Many focused on little Herodias, holding John’s head on the platter. Often the executioner and elder Herodias were also in the frame. In a few, King Herod made an appearance. But hardly any include the crowd.
And then I came across the image above, “Feast of Herod with the Beheading of John the Baptist” by Bartholomeus Strobel the Younger.
Mark tells us that the scene takes place during a royal banquet given for Herod’s “courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee.” Everyone who was anyone was there, and this painting reflects that aspect of the story. The painter felt it was incredibly important that the viewer be aware of the presence of the crowd. In fact, the crowd is so large that the canvas stretches almost 33 feet to include the many characters.
The way we imagine a scene shapes our interpretation of it. It influences the meaning we make of it. And furthermore, the lessons we take from it. Strobel’s painting exposes the way many selectively focus in on Herodias (both daughter and mother) and yet ignore the crowd.
Yet, the crowd mattered to Herod. Their opinions and their support were important to the King. It is their presence that tempts him to make boastful oaths. It is out of regard for the guests that Herod feels compelled to go through with the execution.
So much power the crowd had. Did they know? Did they care?
We hear no reaction from the crowd in Mark. What if just one person had spoken up? Would it have changed the story?
What if you were in the crowd? Would you have done anything?
Strobel chose to include actual people from his day and age in his painting. He filled the enormous canvas with numerous powerful people who played a role in a devastating war that had been ravaging his country for years. As you can see, the painter depicts them as carefree in their revelry, completely oblivious to the suffering that is happening in their midst.
Pastor Sarah Trone Garriott