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Samson and Delilah

Van Dyck depicts a moment of high tension in this story from the Old Testament (Judges16). The Jewish hero Samson has fallen asleep in the lap of his lover Delilah. The Philistines – Samson’s sworn enemies – had bribed Delilah with 1,100 pieces of silver to tell them the secret of his strength, in the hope that they could eventually defeat him. Delilah finally discovered that Samson’s hair was the source of his power. She informed the Philistines, who lie in wait to the left of the painting, ready to arrest Samson as soon as the servant cuts off his hair. 

This work is one of Van Dyck’s earliest masterpieces. He painted it around the age of twenty, when he was working as a studio assistant to Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) in Antwerp. Van Dyck’s style was influenced by the work of his teacher, and this painting owes much to Rubens’ own depiction of Samson and Delilah of 1610, now in the National Gallery, London.  

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Currently on display

Sir Anthony van Dyck
c. 1618–20
Gallery 4
152.3 x 232 cm
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number
Adopted by the Hambland Foundation, 1989