Mariamne, the heroine in this painting, is considered the favorite of King Herod's ten wives. According to ancient history, Mariamne was the most beloved of the ten. However, Herod allowed false rumors of unfaithfulness presented by Salome, her sister, to hinder his affections for her. Because of this, he put Mariamne on trial for the crime of gross unfaithfulness. With great despair, Herod sentenced Mariamne to be executed. Being fond of Greek Mythology, history, literature, and poetry, John Waterhouse was captivated by this story. While his painting does not depict the entire situation, it describes the story's most dramatic moment.
Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod depicts when Mariamne is walking away from the judgment scene after the verdict has been passed. John William Waterhouse depicts Mariamne's hands bound with chains. Her fists are clenched as she stares at her husband while walking away from what seems to be the judgment seat. She is walking down a flight of stairs painted white. The stairs lead to a dark archway. This symbolized her fate following the verdict. John William Waterhouse also depicts King Herod with his head dropped. He is unable to look at her straight and is obviously avoiding her gaze. This speaks of his despair, pain, and disappointment.
Mariamne is dressed in white. The color symbolizes her purity and innocence of the crime of which she is accused. Behind Mariamne is a group of elders sitting in a semi-circle. The men are believed to be some of the most powerful characters in Herod's kingdom. They were a significant part of making the final verdict. The entire image features ancient Roman imagery and statues, which further proves that the scene is set in this location and time. The original Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod by John William Waterhouse was part of the Forbes Magazine Collection in New York for more than three decades. However, in the spring of 2003, the painting was sold in London. Its current origin is unknown. However, there are numerous quality reproductions of the painting by some incredible artists from around the world. This painting is one of the most prominent pieces of history by John William Waterhouse. It is also one of John's most critically acclaimed works of art. Another notable portrait painter worth checking out was Edgar Degas who worked on the fringes of the Impressionist movement in France and contributed the likes of Green Dancer, Bellelli Family and At the Races.