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This work owes much to Rubens’ Samson and Delilah now in the National Gallery, London and was for a long time attributed to him. Van Dyck was at this time working in Rubens’ studio, but his special status - he was already an established master in his own right - is demonstrated by the fact that he did not scruple to ‘improve’ the composition to suit his own ideas. The artist displayed even at twenty his mastery of textures - the luxurious skin tones, satin, velvet and brocade.

The subject is from the Book of Judges, and depicts the moment when one of the Philistines tries to cut Samson’s hair - the source of his strength - without waking him. His secret was given away by his lover Delilah, who had been bribed by the Philistines.

Details

  • Title: Samson and Delilah
  • Date: c.1618-20
  • Physical Dimensions: w2320 x h1523 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Nationality: Flemish
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: Amsterdam, David Amory, 1711; his sale, 23 Jun. 1722, no. 1; Sir Gregory Page, bef. 1767; London, Bertels, Anon. (Page) sale, 28 May 1783, lot 76. Perhaps bt Desenfans (as Van Dyck); London, Noel Desenfans, 1786-1807: London, Christie's, Desenfans private sale, 8 Apr. 1786, lot 174 (as Rubens); Evening Mail inventory, 1791-1792 (Drawing Room, 'Samson betrayed by Dalila, a composition of ten figures'); 1804 Insurance List, no. 99 (as Rubens); London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: The story of Samson and Delilah was very popular, both in Italy and in the North. The Jewish hero Samson is compared with the mythological hero Hercules and even with Christ, as all of them were betrayed by people they trusted. Samson was a very strong Israelite, who fought against the Philistines. He was not allowed to drink alcohol or shave his head; his strength was in his hair. Like Hercules, Samson also battled with all kinds of animals and people, for instance he killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. He fell in love with Delilah, a woman of the Philistine people, the enemies of the Jews. She was offered money by her fellow-countrymen to ask Samson where his strength was located. After three futile attempts finally the misted Samson told Delilah that his strength was in his hair. Delilah called for a man to shave Samson’s hair, the scene Van Dyck has depicted here. After this, Samson was overpowered by the Philistines, who stand waiting on many of the prints and pictures. His eyes were gouged and was taken prisoner. His last deed was the destruction of the temple of the Philistines, where a sacrifice was held. Samson asked God to restore his powers (in the meantime his hair had grown again); he stood between two central columns of the temple, which he pulled down, killing thousands of Philistines and himself. That is the reason in scenes with Samson often one or more columns are depicted, as a referral to this last exploit. It could be that that is also meant with the column on DPG127
  • Artist: Sir Anthony van Dyck
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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