Samson and Delilah

Andrea Mantegnaabout 1500

The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery, London
London, United Kingdom

This picture is based on the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. It is painted to look like a cameo - a miniature relief in the different strata of a precious stone. Such carvings by Roman gem-cutters were admired and collected in Mantegna's circle.

In the biblical story (Judges: 16), Delilah reveals the secret of Samson's strength (his uncut hair) to his enemies, and he is captured. This was sometimes seen as an example of a woman's treachery: Delilah betrayed her lover for money.

The painting is a companion with one of 'Judith and Holofernes'. They form a contrast since Judith serves her nation by killing its greatest enemy, whereas Delilah destroys the nation's greatest hero. These may, however, have been part of a series of paintings of famous women.

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  • Title: Samson and Delilah
  • Creator: Andrea Mantegna
  • Date Created: about 1500
  • Physical Dimensions: 47 x 36.8 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Glue size on canvas
  • School: Italian (North)
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG1145
  • Artist Dates: about 1430/1 - 1506
  • Artist Biography: His first important commission came in 1448, painting frescoes for the Eremitani Chapel in Padua. He worked in Padua, Verona and Venice before moving to Mantua in 1460, where he spent the rest of his life. The great paintings by Mantegna in the Gallery date from his years in Mantua as court artist to the Gonzaga. His scholarly interest in the antique drew him into friendship with humanist scholars like Felice Feliciano. In 1464 they dressed up as Romans for a boating excursion on Lake Garda. In the 'Triumphs of Caesar' Mantegna indulged his interest in antique art, which can also be seen in the Gallery's 'Cult of Cybele'. He developed a painting technique which enabled him to imitate the look of classical sculpture. Mantegna produced engravings which helped spread his designs and fame beyond Italy. From possibly humble origins Mantegna rose to become a valued retainer of the Gonzaga. He was knighted by 1484, a rare honour for an artist.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1883