The decapitation of men remained an obsession for intellectuals at the fin de siècle. Yet the focus sometimes shifted from purist representations of Judith and Salome to depictions of the Everywoman and into Love as the ultimate humiliation of man. The German graphic artist Thomas Theodor Heine’s piece The Execution of 1892 features a man crossing a drawbridge to a vulva-like castle followed by a woman toting a sword. The German painter Ludwig von Hofmann’s 1897 drawing The Valley of Innocence portrays men as women’s playthings, simply awaiting decapitation. Bram Dijkstra describes Albert von Keller’s 1908 Love as

an image of a naked young woman—Salome and Judith rolled into one—casually holding a long, sharp sword. On a bed next to her, in the tempest-swept, half-razed tent pitched on the battlefield of the turn-of-the-century’s war against woman, lies the decapitated body of a man. The man’s head, already half-forgotten, lies abandoned in the dust at the woman’s feet. The dark haired woman’s beak-like, Semitic face, low forehead, and livid lips are meant to bespeak her degeneracy. The decapitated man’s hand still touches the laurel wreath he was reaching for when she attacked him. She has stepped on it disdainfully. The artist gave this crudely symbolic painting a simple title. He called it Love(Dijkstra 400).

The laurel wreath of the poet, trampled by the femme fatalelies trampled on the ground, symbolizing the artist decapitated by the woman he loves. Furthermore, Dijkstra writes that the audience was meant to call for the guards as Herod did in Wilde’s Salome and “sound the call of gynecide: 'Kill that woman!’” (401). Thus the woman’s materialistic power over the fallen hero would be revenged only with her death.

Salome, Judith, and Decapitated Men in the Fin de Siècle imagination

References

Dijkstra, Bram. Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.


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Last modified 26 December 2006