Historical Notes: Jefferson acquired this painting and four others at a sale of works of art belonging to the late Dupille de Saint-Severin in Paris in 1785. Saint-Severin's collection, which was expanded throughout the eighteenth century, included works by Guercino, Luca Giordano, and Jose de Ribera.
Described as "l'un des plus beaux de ce maitre," Herodias Bearing the Head of Saint John was billed as an original work&—Herodias Bearing the Head of Saint John&—by Simon Vouet (1590-1649). Jefferson thought otherwise. When he prepared his "Catalogue of Paintings," he wrote, "Herodiade bearing the head of St. John in a platter, 1 3/4 length of full size on canvas, copied from Simon Vouett. purchased from St. Severin's collection. Catal. 248."Herodias depicts the biblical account of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist to her mother, Herodias; Jefferson wrote that the subject was Matthew 14: 11 and Mark 6: 2-8.
The painting that Jefferson purchased, however, was neither Simon Vouet's Herodias nor a copy of it. Jefferson's Herodias is instead a copy of one by Guido Reni's version of the same subject, much known and admired during the eighteenth century, that hung in the Corsini Gallery in Rome. For example, Benjamin West painted a copy of it in 1763 which he described as "a copy of Guido's finest, Herodias in Cardinal Corsini's Palace."