She lulled him to sleep on her lap. Then she called in a man, and she had him cut off the seven locks of his head; thus she weakened him and made him helpless- his strength slipped away from him. She cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ And he awoke from his sleep, thinking he would break loose and shake himself free as he had the other times. For he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. (Judges 16-19-21)

Rembrandt has chosen to depict Samson’s brutal capture. Deceived by Delilah, Samson is seized by the Philistines, who have pinned him to the floor and gouged out his eyes, which gush with blood. His convulsing right leg points in the direction of the doorway where Delilah, holding Samson’s locks and the shears, delighting in her conquest. The chiaroscuro of the picture focuses not only on the captured giant but also on the escape hatch from which he has been mercilessly barred. It is instructive to compare this canvas portrait with the one entitled ‘Samson and Delilah’ in which Rembrandt is more loyal to the biblical text. In that picture Delilah summons a Philistine to shear Samson’s locks, whereas, in this canvas, Rembrandt has collapsed the narrative and portrayed Delilah with Samson’s locks and shears in hand.

Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy

Photo courtesy of Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main.