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Rembrandt - The Blinding of Simson

by Thyra Guenther-Lübbers

The subject of this large-format painting by Rembrandt goes back to the Old Testament. We see Samson as he is wrestled to the ground by five Philistines in a cave and a fleeing Delilah at the exit of the cave. At first, the viewer does not understand the action depicted and questions arise as to why and why not. However, these dissolve when one pays attention to the attributes in Delilah's hands. In her left hand she holds a blond mop of hair and in her right hand a large pair of scissors, on which daylight falls intentionally, in order to make the action comprehensible to the viewer. Her gaze goes to Simson lying on the ground, expressing both pity and guilt. Samson and Delilah are lovers but fatally belong to two hostile peoples. Samson is a protector of Israel chosen by God and endowed with superhuman powers. Delilah, on the other hand, belongs to the Philistine people. As proof of his love, she demands that Samson reveal the well-kept secret of his powers. It is his hair without which Samson is completely powerless. Thus the bow can be struck to the painting. Delilah was bribed by her own

Delilah was bribed by her own countrymen and robbed her beloved of his hair. Aware of her guilt, she wants to flee from the cave, leaving Samson to the fury of the Philistines. The entire plot is so charged that it virtually demands tension and dynamism, and Rembrandt has succeeded in transferring this into his painting and making the viewer feel it.

We find it, on the one hand, in the sinuous posture of Delilah and, on the other hand, in the various actions of the Philistines pouncing aggressively on Samson. They seem to be dazed and a bit overwhelmed by the once seemingly impossible overcoming of Simson. The one seems completely helpless buried under Samson, the next one is about to blind Samson but grabs the knife by the scabbard and threatens to injure himself with it. The third seems awkward and overwhelmed in his attempt to chain Simson. The two remaining soldiers show frightened gestures and facial expressions.

An almost crowning conclusion to the tension is formed by Simson's right foot, which is visible to the viewer in the center of the picture and illuminated by daylight, stretched away from his body under the highest tension. The appeal of the painting lies in the fact that the whole story of Samson and Delilah is shown in one picture and that Rembrandt has succeeded in evoking a timeless fright in the picture. The viewer of that time as well as today is frightened by the brute force that this painting shows.

Rembrandt - The Blinding of Simson

Oil on canvas, 1636, 206,0 x 276,0 cm, Städel Museum in Frankfurt


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