For the show at the Salon, Moreau chose the watercolor version, and left this oil painting in the workshop along with two other, smaller canvases, which also showed scenes with Salome. While remaining one of the leading Symbolist artists, Moreau was constantly interested in the art of the East.
For example, a Japanese engraving with a ghost appearing inside a mysterious ball helped the artist understand how to portray the head of John the Baptist inside a glowing halo. Moreau saw the Japanese engraving in question at an exhibition in 1869 and copied it, and made his first sketches for The Apparition only a few months later.
The head of the Forerunner itself resembles the famous bronze statue of the 16th century by Benvenuto Cellini, the severed head of Medusa Gorgon, which Perseus holds in his hand.