Samson and Delilah

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.

Key facts

Artist dates
about 1431 - 1506
Full title
Samson and Delilah
Date made
about 1500
Medium and support
Glue size on canvas
47 x 36.8 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought, 1883
Inventory number
Location in Gallery