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“Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens

Samson and Delilah by Rubens

“Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens

“Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens depicts an episode from the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was a Hebrew hero of the ancient Israelites described in the Book of Judges. Samson was granted immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including defeating an army of Philistines. However, if Samson’s long hair were cut, then his vow would be violated, and he would lose his strength. Unfortunately, he fell in love with Delilah, who betrayed him.

Delilah had been bribed by the Philistines, to learn Samson’s secret of his great strength. Rubens portrays the moment when, having fallen asleep on Delilah’s lap, Samson’s hair is cut. Delilah is shown with all of her clothes, but with her breasts exposed. The man cutting Samson’s hair is crossing his hands, which is a sign of betrayal. Philistine soldiers can be seen waiting in the background waiting for Samson to lose his strength and to capture him. The old woman’s face standing behind Delilah may symbolise Delilah’s future looks, they are shown with similar profiles.

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist who is considered the most influential artists of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens specialised in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. His compositions referenced classical and Christian history and emphasised movement, colour, and sensuality.

Samson

Samson was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies, who gouged out his eyes and forced him to grind grain in a mill at Gaza. When the Philistines took Samson into their temple of Dagon, Samson was allowed to rest against one of the support pillars. Sensing his opportunity, he prayed to God and miraculously recovered his strength, allowing him to grasp hold of the columns and tear them down, killing himself and all the Philistines with him.

Delilah

Delilah is bribed by the Philistines to discover the source of Sampson’s strength. After three failed attempts, she finally impels Samson into telling her the secret of his power, which he revealed as his oath to God to never cut his hair. As he sleeps, Delilah orders a servant to cut Samson’s hair, thereby enabling her to turn him over to the Philistines. Her name has become associated with treacherous and voluptuous women.

Exploring Art

Reflections

  • The Bible does not mention Delilah’s fate. What do you think happened to her after her betrayal?

Samson and Delilah

  • Title:           Samson and Delilah
  • Artist:         Peter Paul Rubens
  • Year:           1610
  • Medium:     Oil on wood
  • Dimensions: 185 cm × 205 cm (73 in × 81 in)
  • Museum:    National Gallery, London

Peter Paul Rubens

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“Your arms were quicksand. Your kiss was death.”
– Samson

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Photo Credit: 1) Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons