This is Henri Regnault’s Salomé, from 1870.
Lovely as she is, intricate and shining and surprisingly close as the scene may be, the piece is surprisingly ordinary.
Shouldn’t there be dancing, and severed heads?
There’s a sly allusion in the blade and plate, but nothing approaching violence—or even motion, particularly—in the scene.
It can’t have been from any sense of delicacy on Regnault’s part: he painted a deeply gruesome beheading in full detail the very same year.
There is somewhat of a practical explanation in the Metropolitan Museum's comment that “Regnault initially represented this Italian model as an African woman, but later enlarged the canvas at the bottom and right and transformed it into a representation of Salomé.”
But why change an Orientalist genre scene into a depiction of Salomé?
To me, there’s actually a surprising tension to the work because of it. At some point recently, this somewhat static if mischievous-looking woman danced so beautifully that she found herself in a position to command a king.
At some point soon, we know, she will command that king to bring her a man’s head on the very plate she casually balances on her lap.
But for now, she lounges safely, smiling at the viewer like the subject of one of those ubiquitous 19th century paintings of some imaginary and ambiguously foreign harem.