Samson, the Jewish hero, fell in love with Delilah. She was bribed by the Philistines, and discovered that his strength came from his hair which had never been cut. While he was asleep it was cut, Samson was drained of his strength and the Philistines were able to capture him. (Old Testament, Judges 16: 17-20). Rubens depicts a candlelit interior; the Philistines wait at the door, one of their number cuts Samson's hair, while an elderly woman provides extra light. In a niche behind is a statue of the goddess of love, Venus, with Cupid - a reference to the cause of Samson's fate.
This painting was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox, alderman of Antwerp, for his town house in 1609-10. It shows the influence of the antique, as well as Michelangelo and Caravaggio. There is a preparatory drawing (private collection, Amsterdam) and a modello (Cincinnati Museum of Art).
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Thirty Nine, January 2010