Rubens – additional research

From my Assignment 3 feedback, my Rubens annotation needed more research behind it. Starting here, where I’m just jotting down my notes and quotes from Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens and others. I’m also reading another Rubens book on the train so I’ll do reflection of the two posts once I’ve finsihed that.

Nicolaas Rockox had been a crucial patron of Rubens after he returned to Antwerp. He was instrumental in the artists being awarded the commission for Adoration of the Magi (1608-9) for the town hall of Antwerp. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N., 2004) – P23/4 (now in the Prado) He was a very important man to know in Antwerp at that time and a good friend for Rubens to have.


Formal parallels between the Adoration and Samson and Delilah suggest that Rockox commissioned the latter at about the same time. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004) 

Frans Franken the Younger’s Banquet in the House of Burgemeester Rockox (1630-35) show the painting hung over the fireplace:

Frans Francken, the Younger
Banquet in the House of Nicolaas Rockox, c. 1630/35
Oil on panel
height 62,3 cm, width 96,4 cm
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Inv.-No. 858


Rubens’s studio practices in these years are revealed by the ‘Samson and Delilah’ , which was preceded by a drawing as well as an old sketch. The sketch is a ravishingly beautiful little study that compacts and condenses all the power and drama as well as the flowing color of the large final version into the intimate confines of a small panel. The large and impressive final version makes only minor adjustments to the composition and format of the scene but offers a virtuoso refinement of surface detail  and texture on the grander scale. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

An illustrative example of Rubens’s style during his first years back in Antwerp, the sketch advertises his admiration for his Italian sources, with homage not only to Michelangelo but also to Caravaggio and Tintoretto, while displaying brilliantly confident brushwork. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)


Standing just behind the couple, a young man lifts a lock of Samson’s hair with his left hand and snips it close with the shears held in his right. The awkward crossing of his hands is surely intentional and meant to convey a specific reference to betrayal (see Kahr 1972, p295 with further references). (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

Rubens emphasises the eroticism of the scene not only in the visual expression of Delilah’s treacherous sensuality but also through the inclusion of the old crone who stands behind her. In accordance with biblical commentaries that describe Delilah as a temptress and a whore, and certainly cognizant of the many moralizing prints of brothel scenes produced during the 16th century, Rubens casts the old woman as a procuress, aiding and abetting Delilah’s duplicity (on the development of this tradition , see Kahr 1972). The statue of Venus and Cupid in a background niche underscores Delilah’s professionalism, making it clear, as Julius Held noted “which deity is served in Delilah’s house” (1980,vol 1, p431). (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)


Rubens liberally referenced the work of other artists in his composition: Delilah’s pose echoes (in reverse) the figure of Night from Michelangelo’s tomb for Giuliano de’ Medici in the church of San Lorenzo, Florence; the nocturnal setting and complex lighting effects were inspired not only by Caravaggio but also by Rubens’s colleague in Rome, Adam Elsheimer; and the arrangement of the composition is sufficiently close to Tintoretto’s interpretation of the subject to suggest that Rubens might have known that painting as well. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

Tintoretto’s composition is known in two versions, one at Chatsworth and one in the John and Mable Ringling Museum, (see below). Rubens’s painting is in no sense derivative however but attests to his thorough understanding and inventive assimilation of artistic sources. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)

CTS336428 Samson and Delilah (oil on canvas) by Tintoretto, Jacopo Robusti (1518-94); 161.9×228 cm; Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, UK; © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees; Italian, out of copyright


Samson and Delilah
by circle of Jacopo Tintoretto (Italian, 1519 – 1594). 16th Century
Oil on canvas
49 7/8 x 27 3/4 in. (126.7 x 70.5 cm)
Credit Line: Bequest of John Ringling, 1936
Object number: SN75 John and Mable Ringling Museum

A great swag of curtain at the top of the composition heighted the closeness of the room, with the added effect of permitting us a covert glimpse of a clandestine act. (Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N, 2004)  The niche with the statue of Venus and Cupid has been added into the Cincinnati modello and final work that wasn’t in the original pen and ink sketch. Also the shelf with glass jars and a towel hanging below, possibly another reference to the work of prostitution (Brown in 1983) but also interpreted as wine vessels alluding to drunkenness of Samsons downfall (Held 1980).

He created two other oil sketches around the same time but didn’t get around to a full scale version until 1620, The capture of Samson (below).


Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
The Capture of Samson, 1620
Staatsgalerie im Schloß Schleißheim, Munich

Delilah’s pose is more accessible, turning to the viewer, away from the violent struggle. Sutton thought this design may have been inspired by Anthony van Dyck’s Samson taken by the Philistines but since that was painted 1630 that seems unlikely to me.


Since my original post on Rubens, the national gallery have put a video of a lunchtime talk on the page by Freelance lecturer James Heard. He examines Rubens’s extraordinary technique and some possible inspirations behind the work, including Caravaggio and Michelangelo. He also looks at how this painting was created specifically to hang above a fireplace in the house of the mayor of Antwerp at the time. Clearly since this video was made they have redressed the issue of the way the painting is hung, as I pointed out in my first post, when you see the painting hung in the gallery (high up and angled as though it is above a great fireplace) it is much less flat than when you see the painting online.

Notes made whilst watching the video:

Samson was a terrorist (according to the philistines)

Samson asleep after making love in a brothel

Rubens sometimes painted on site.
Light in the painting, there was a large row of large windows on the left in the original room for which this painting was commissioned which Rubens has taken advantage of in his lighting.
The brazier doesn’t seem to shine enough light for the amount of light in the painting. Eg the light on the feet.
Caravaggio never painted a bare flame, but German painter Elsheimer did (who was his friend).
Starting with the brazier, the wind is blowing the flames in the direction of the next light source, the flame of the candle that the old lady is holding.
Venice painting with similar brazier: Martyrdom of st Mark (couldn’t find what he was talking about)
The old lady, the madam, not mentioned in the bible story
The flame she is holding points us up to the figure of Venus & cupid (who is gagged rather than blindfolded as books suggest)
Another light under the statue makes 3 lights and then there are the torches carried by the philistines

The poses: Michelangelo-esk about the pose of Samson. Rubens made endless drawings to work from while he was in Italy.
Samson is huge and you feel he is coiled like a spring (even though he is completely relaxed and asleep) because if he stretched out he’d burst out of the painting

Inspired by the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican which is believed to have inspired Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel.

Delilah’s pose is after Michalenglos leda and the swan (original lost)

Checks and balances in the painting.
Strange relationships
• The same model is the man cutting the hair and Samson
• Delilah and the old woman could be the same woman (but older) once her looks have gone

Rubens isn’t taken sides to Samson or Delilah. His family were both Calvinists and Catholic so he knows about seeing both sides. He mentions the scandal of his dads affair and imprisonment. He was a measured and sober sort of person.

The drapery tells its own story:
Purple drapery hanging above Samson like the sword of Damocles. This isn’t made of purple paint but the same red as her dress mixed with black. Limited palate.
Arm drapery, twisted like her emotions, he’s on tenterhooks. Contrast with Samson’s relaxed arm
Hands and fingers point of interest. Crossed hands is a sign of treachery
Her hand not quite touching his back, seems as though its floating.
Samson is swarthy, she is pink, they contrast. In roman times sculptures of men tended to be painted brown because they lived outside, women were painted pink.
Full of morals.
Red draper sings out of the painting, especially with the fire below.
Shape of the painting, square, which is much more difficult and quite unusual. Shape determined by commissioned spare.
Golden drapery probably linked with curtain below the painting. Softness under Delilah (drapery)
He might be wearing the skin of the lion
Tiny pinpoint of light behind the servants hair to rimlight him so he doesn’t disappear into the background.
The headgear of the old lady, has the same folds of her skin, relationships
Relationship of verticals, a pattern of verticals against the diagonals, unstable lines. They are a pause against the curves of Italian inspired drapery.
Northern draper tended to be more angular
Her waist is fashioned by the dress
Her delicate feet in contrast to his massive feet
The painting is made on wood.
His client work usually done on canvas
In excellent condition



Held, J.S. (1980) The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue. Princeton University Press

John and Mable Ringling Museum. (2017) Samson and Delilah At:
(Accessed on 8 May 17)

National Gallery, YouTube. (2017) Peter Paul Rubens: painting Samson and Delilah | National Gallery At:
(Accessed on 20 May 17)
Sutton, P.C, Wieseman, M.E, van Hout, N. (2004) Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens. Yale University Press


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