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.