Peter Paul Rubens executed this overmantel for the Great Parlour of Nicolaas Rockox's house painting shortly after returning from Italy. The showpiece of Rockox's art collection, it depicts the Old Testament figure of Samson sprawled in Delilah's lap sleeping off his liquor. She had previously seduced him in order to discover the secret of his strength, which lay in his hair. With the aid of this ruse Delilah delivered him into the hands of the Philistines. Samson's hair is shaved and his eyes put out.
Biblical subjects with powerful female figures were very popular at that time, and in the prevailing atmosphere of the Counter-Reformation they were justifiable as artistic subjects because of their moralistic message; this scene can also be interpreted as an admonition against the dire consequences of uncurbed passion. The figures of Venus and Cupid wearing a blindfold in the niche provide a subtle classical echo of Samson's downfall.
This masterpiece by Rubens reveals the influence of the art he had encountered in Italy and displays reminiscences of Michelangelo, Tintoretto and the art of classical antiquity. The drama of the scene is heightened by the play between light and dark which would have been enhanced by its original location with the light falling from the left through the window and the flames flickering in the fireplace below.
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Peter Paul Rubens
Samson and Delilah, c. 1610
Oil on panel
height 185 cm, width 205 cm
The National Gallery, London, Inv.-No. NG 6461
Further works on display
Decius Mus relating his dream, 1616/1617
Decius Mus preparing for Death, 1616/1617
The Death of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Dismissal of the Lictors, 1616/1617
The Interpretation of the Victim, 1616/1617
The Trophy, 1616/1617
The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1637
Venus in Front of the Mirror, 1614/1615
Oil sketch of Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Mars und Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius, c. 1616
Satyr and Maid with Fruit Basket, 1615
The Lamentation, c. 1612
Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death, 1615/1622
Double Portrait of Albert and Nikolaus Rubens, c. 1626/1627
Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, 1616
Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, c. 1616
Henry IV seizes the Opportunity to conclude Piece, 1628
The Victory of Henry IV at Coutras, 1628
The Consecration of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus
Three Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Joachim, 1615/1620
St. Catherine in the Clouds, 1620/1621
Four Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Anne, 1615/1620
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun, 1621/1625
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601/1602
Perseus and Andromeda
The Virgin adorned with flowers, 1609/1610
Psyche taken up into Olympus, 1621
Landscape with Milkmaids and Cows, 1616
Allegory of war, 1628
The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, 1628 (?)
The Assumption of the Virgin, modello, 1637
Ganymede, 1611/1612
Diana´s Hunt, 1628
St. Francis of Assisi before the Crucified Christ, 1625
Portrait of a Monk (?)
Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
The Visitation, 1611/1612
Portrait of Nicolaas Rockox, 1615
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