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Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah

Key facts
Full title Samson and Delilah
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made about 1609-10
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 185 × 205 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1980
Inventory number NG6461
Location Room 18
Collection Main Collection
Samson and Delilah
Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens’s Samson and Delilah portrays a tragedy of love and betrayal. Delilah, Samson’s lover, has been bribed to discover the secret of Samson’s supernatural strength. Rubens shows the moment when Delilah tells an accomplice to cut his hair, leaving him powerless. Outside, soldiers wait to capture him.

But maybe Delilah will pay for her treachery. The profile of the old woman behind her is a striking but withered likeness of her own, perhaps suggesting that she will one day lose the beauty that was Samson’s downfall.

During a visit to Italy, Rubens had seen Caravaggio’s experiments in the use of highly contrasting light and shade, and deep, rich colour. On his return, he used these new techniques to paint Samson and Delilah, commissioned by his friend and patron, Nicolaas II Rockox, the mayor of Antwerp, for his private collection.

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