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Andrea Mantegna, Samson and Delilah

Key facts
Full title Samson and Delilah
Artist Andrea Mantegna
Artist dates about 1431 - 1506
Date made about 1500
Medium and support Glue size on canvas
Dimensions 47 × 36.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1883
Inventory number NG1145
Location Room 10
Collection Main Collection
Samson and Delilah
Andrea Mantegna

Lured by a bribe from the Philistines, Israel’s enemies, Delilah agreed to collaborate in the capture of Samson – the Israelite hero of the Old Testament, and her lover. She cut off the source of his legendary strength – his hair – while he slept (Judges 16: 18–21). Her treachery is underlined by the Latin inscription carved into the tree: ‘woman is three times worse than the devil himself.’

A luscious vine, heavy with ripe grapes, encircles the tree, which has no leaves of its own. The grapes may refer to the wine of the Eucharist, which was drunk at Mass and thought to transform into Christ’s blood. Like Samson, Christ was betrayed and handed over to his enemies; unlike Samson, his death was believed to redeem humanity of sin.

Mantegna made a number of images of famous women from the Bible and classical literature, painting them to look like ancient stone or bronze reliefs set against coloured marble backdrops.

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