The macabre climax of the festivities to celebrate King Herodes' birthday is the moment when Salome presents the decapitated head of St John the Baptist to her stepfather on a pewter plate. Cranach dramatically intensifies the gruesome scene in his depiction, as the biblical text recounting the martyrdom (Mt 14, 1-12 and Mk 6, 21-29) only records the unnamed Salome showing the head to her mother (Gotha, Inv Nr. SG303). Embellishment of the scene to include the stepfather and other additional details allowed Cranach to deploy his narrative skills. The compositional inspiration for this painting can be found in a woodcut by the netherlandish artist Lucas van Leyden, which was created about 1513/14.
Cranach divided the image into different sections. Grouped around the decapitated head are the people who were directly involved in the event: Herodes, Herodias and Salome. As the protagonist Salome stands in the foreground of the painting. Whereas the king is shown expressing resistance or shock, his wife Herodias appears emotionally impassive. Salome's facial expression on the other hand with its slightly open eyes and open mouth is particularly devious. The Baptist's head shown distorted with pain is masterfully positioned within the composition. At once the viewer takes in the ruptured eyes and the bloody wound on the neck of the decapitated head, which illustrate the entire horror of the event in a most gruesome and realistic manner. The protagonists are surrounded by unconcerned observers. One of the servants carries a bowl with fruit, which in size and appearance is similar to the plate with the decapitated head and as such underlines the macabre presentation on the table. The man on the left holding the hilt of his sword is a reference to the preceding order to behead St John.
 Lucas van Leyden, 'Herodes' Feast', woodcut, British Museum, London.
[Exhib. Cat. Gotha/Kassel 2015, 220]