The Blinding of Samson by Rembrandt

The Blinding of Samson by Rembrandt
Courtesy of www.RembrandtPaintings.com

In 1636, Rembrandt painted the most violent and Baroque composition of his entire career: The Blinding of Samson. In the Bible story, this sanguine episode follows upon Samson's unhappy marriage with an unnamed Philistine girl and his love affair with another Philistine woman whose name is only too well known: Delilah. The lords of her tribe having promised her a vast sum for the secret of Samson's extraordinary strength, Delilah three times attempts to beguile her lover into telling her, and is three times misled by a wary Samson. Finally, "his soul...vexed unto death" by her wheedling, he tells her "all his heart": "There hath not come a razor upon mine head...if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me" (Judges 17:17). Delilah thereupon summons the Philistine lords, lulls Samson to sleep with his head in her lap, and cuts off his hair. Then she awakens him to face his foes, who promptly put out his eyes.

The painting represents the bloody climax of the story. Samson has been overwhelmed by one of the Philistines, who has the biblical hero locked in his grip. Samson's right hand is being fettered by another soldier, and a third is plunging a sword into his eye, from which blood rushes forth. His whole frame writhes convulsively with sudden pain. The warrior standing in front, silhouetted against the light in the Honthorst manner, has his halberd ready to plunge into Samson if he manages to free himself before the hideous deed is done. Delilah, with a look of terror mixed with triumph, is a masterful characterization seen in a half haze, as she rushes to the opening of the tent.

Photo of The Blinding of Samson by Rembrandt
Photo of The Blinding of Samson by Rembrandt

Rembrandt's large canvas with life-size figures and fierce contrasts of light is a fearful rendering of the story. The way in which the soldiers attack Samson, blind him, and force chains upon him could hardly be depicted more gruesomely. Samson's face contorted with anguish and his bare foot with the toes curled in pain and powerless fury arc painted with appalling naturalness. Her face triumphant, Delilah abandons the lover she has betrayed. In one hand she holds the scissors, in the other Samson's hair.