The artists of the past were masters of visual storytelling. But which one is your favorite when it comes to Samson and Delilah?
In the famous story from Judges 16, Samson lets his wife Delilah know the secret of his God-given strength. If anyone cuts off his hair, he will lose his power. Delilah leaks the secret to Samson’s enemies, the Philistines. As Samson sleeps, Delilah—or one of her servants—cuts his seven locks. The Philistines arrive to bind him and put out his eyes.
Let’s look at how six different artists interpret the tragic tale.
Anthony Van Dyck shows Samson sleeping heavily on his wife’s fine dress as her servant closes in with the scissors. (Van Dyck 1)
Van Dyck’s alternate version shows Samson wakened to the reality of his betrayal as the cords of the Philistines tighten round him. (Van Dyck 2)
Matthias Stom gives Delilah the scissors. His picture is a psychological study, with a low hidden light source adding to the mystery and intrigue.
Court displays Samson awake. His muscle-bound body is parallel to the picture plane. Each of his antagonists grasps him at a different point. He himself reaches back to find his hair has been cut off.
Rembrandt shows Delilah with Samson asleep in her lap. She turns back to the man with the shears, who is spotlit behind her.
Peter Paul Rubens painting gives emphasis to the heavily muscled back and arm of Samson draped across Delilah as her servant delicately does his deed.
Solomon Solomon creates a volcano of energy by uniting three figures into a single shape. Delilah waves the lock of hair with cruel glee as Samson writhes against his captors.
UPDATE: I conducted a blog poll to see which was the readers' favorite and the winner was Solomon Solomon with 60 votes. The next highest vote-getter was the Matthias Stom (39 votes). The best known old masters: Rubens (13), Van Dyck 2 (11), and Rembrandt (6) were far behind, but as some of you pointed out, I overlooked an important Rembrandt, "The Blinding of Samson," link.