after Rubens: the strange story of the Samson and Delilah
 
 
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Part of what makes the Samson and Delilah so interesting as a work of art is the extreme disparity in the response it evokes from people - both those who have seen it perhaps just once, as well as scholars who may have studied it for half a lifetime.

Below you will find comments both for and against the attribution, as well as more general observations that visitors to the site have sent in. Please recommend the comments you find most interesting and let us know how you see it too.

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Submitted: 20 January 2006, 2:03:17 PM
  I think sum1 wasted a few million bucks for a copy...

Rainer Richter, Student, Cologne, Germany

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Submitted: 18 January 2006, 1:24:46 PM
  my first imprestion when looking at the painting was too much light and the colour purple being an eye sore in such a painting by a master who always seemed to use less viabrant colours . The style in my opinion is totally contrary to a true Rubens

lilly attard, retired rest. mang, rabat, malta

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Submitted: 09 January 2006, 7:38:56 PM
  Samson won great battles against the people known as the Philistines several times throughout history. Once upon a time Samson whispered, “If you cut off of my toe, I shall be as weak as any other man." After that, he shook himself to fight one more time the Philistines, but his toe was gone. His strength was gone.

Samson was overcome.

Yet one day, Samson felt the breeze blowing through his hair, which had begun to grow again, and he realized that his incredible strength was returning. Samson stretched his mighty arms around the two pillars of the temple of the Philistines and pulled with all of his great strength, which had returned. The temple crashed around him. Samson died in the destruction along with 3,000 Philistines.

Julia Perez - Torres, film producer, Oacaha, Mexico

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Submitted: 07 January 2006, 5:49:41 AM
  Very good job of depicting a copy. There can be no question that this painting is not an original Rubens. Simply put, it is a fraud on the public and a disgrace to the art community. It does not take a genius to see that this is a good copy. Even my five year old grandson can see the difference.

Mervin Davis, art collector, Malibu, usa

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Submitted: 03 January 2006, 7:17:44 PM
  Fascinating website. Thank you for all the excellent information. I have to agree with you. I don't believe it's genuine. To reduce that reasoning to the simplest of terms: It just doesn't look right. There's often truth in mere instinct.

Jane Ewer, European Tour Manager, USA

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Submitted: 03 January 2006, 7:16:30 PM
  What a farce! When the rarest of the rare occurs and a great painting is imported into England rather than exported, it turns out to be a copy! and to think that for the same money they could have bought the Radnor velasquez (Juan de Pareja) ten years earlier, or even, about the same time they bought 'Samson and Delilah', they could have bought the 'Blenheim' Rubens' which left England in 1886, and was available through Wildenstein (around 1980). This portrait of the artist with his wife Helena Fourment and son, was perhaps his most magnificant painting to have ever been in England. A painting of unparalleled decorative splendour, but also a most tender expresion of the poetry of love. The National gallery, it seems, always prefered the dramatic Rubens to the Romantic or humane Rubens. That's why they allowed the 'Gerbier family' to leave England ten years before. I think there are too many massacares and wars in the National gallery's collection of Rubens. But the collection lacks in lovely family portraits.

joseph B daniel, musician and writer, kfar mordechai, israel

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Submitted: 02 January 2006, 10:26:41 PM
  Your arguments are very persuasive that the painting in question is not the original work of Rubens. It has essentially no provenance (only that one human and fallible expert, in 1929 claimed it was genuine without any surviving documentation of that judgment) lacks the detail and technique which mark others of his work, and has anomalies like the awkward toeless foot that are unlike him.

It is easy to understand that those responsible for spending millions for it are unlikely to agree with you, based on the nature of human beings. To accept your arguments they would have to admit to folly, and jeopardize their reputations and possibly their careers. Whether they are right or wrong, this is a beautiful illustration of the way that errors, once tied to individuals, can stay alive and prosper.

It also raises an important aesthetic question: is all this relevant to the National Gallery featuring and displaying the painting?

The merit of a work of art of this kind lies in many different qualities: these include the subject matter, the overall design of the work, the rendering of major features, and finally the details of its execution. A good copy usually is identical to the original in the first two or three of these and perhaps less good in the last.

To members of the general public, who come to the gallery to see great art, and look at perhaps a hundred or more different paintings, the details of any one of these are largely irrelevant and soon forgotten. Many come without a well developed aesthetic sense, and come in part to learn what greatness is and what it is they are expected to find admirable.

The overall impression that the painting under consideration gives to people who know little about Rubens is hardly different from what they would get from the original, (assuming it is a copy). Thus, to most viewers, it is as worth showing as the original, whatever it is.

I myself have never much liked Rubens, because I associate him with overlarge but un-sexy nudes, and angels floating in the sky, both of which have little appeal to me. To me, seeing even the images on your website increase my appreciation of his genius. To me then the presence even of the copy has almost the same value as that of the original.

Yes, the attention to detail and technique of the present picture seem sloppy but there were lots of Seventeenth Century artists in the Low Countries who were like Rubens in their attentions to detail and in their grittiness. His unique genius is tied up with his subject matters and his treatment of them rather than these characteristics.

True, students of art history or artists, who really care about details find these things disconcerting and lead them to question the authenticity of the painting. But this is a good, not a bad thing. For a student to realize that his or her own judgment might be superior to that of the experts at the National Gallery is a liberating revelation that leads to the self confidence needed for individual development of character, and to freedom from the artistic conventions of the moment.

Furthermore, consigning this painting to basement storage would make your website unnecessary and useless, since its job would be done.

I would recommend keeping the painting on display, but also advertising your website with it. The education in art that the casual observer would get from making the comparisons you feature would be of immense value toward interesting members of the general public in art history and in the world of Rubens.

Daniel Kleitman, mathematician, Newton, USA

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Submitted: 01 January 2006, 8:55:50 PM
  OH MY GOD! DO I LAUGH? OR, SIMPLY CRY?

LEO STEVENSON SAID IT BEST. AT A GLANCE, WITHOUT ANY EXAMINATION OF THE OBVIOUS, "IT JUST DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT." IN FACT, I'LL GO FURTHER AND SAY THAT IT IS VOID OF ANY FEELING THAT ONE EXPERIENCES UPON VIEWING AN "OLD MASTER", THAT SO QUICKLY ASSURES ME, OF WHAT I AM AND AM NOT VIEWING. FURTHER DEBATE COULD ONLY EXIST WITH SOMEONE INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING WHAT I AM SPEAKING OF.......

La Jan White-Sanford, artist (self taught), Fort Worth, TEXAS, USA

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Submitted: 27 December 2005, 9:19:58 PM
  Fascinating. I believe it's a fake.

While you did mention the possibility of the right side of the painting being cut (ie. the lack of toes on the foot), I don't believe anyone has mentioned the difference on the left side of the painting. In the engraving (after the original) and the other painting, the old woman's back (actually her whole body) is on the canvas (with space behind it). In the "faux" Reubens, just like Sampson's foot, the body is cut off. Which makes me question why the canvas was altered? Have the threads from the canvas been tested for the appropriate chemistry for the period? Was the fabric, in fact, the wrong dimension to qualify for such a period? Was there a signature other than Rubens on the portion removed? Too many questions...too few answers.

Thank you for a stimulating debate.

Judy Swierczek, Bergenfield, NJ, USA

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Submitted: 22 December 2005, 1:16:42 PM
  I came to this site as a casual observer; most definitely as an uninformed and inexperienced eaves-dropper. Nevertheless, I seem to be leaving with a feeling of pure fascination for the subject. If it does nothing else, this argument at least serves up an irresistible fine art appetizer which, for many less informed observers such as myself, leaves me ravenous for the next course.

Thank you. Thank you so much for making this off-limits subject so lucid, so intriguing and so utterly compelling. I cannot recall the last time a subject I had no clue about was converted into something which has gripped me with so much fascination.

At the most basic level, this discussion succeeds in inviting the uninvited into a debate normally reserved for the cognoscenti. It has left me with an insight into the tools and machinations behind the critique of art. This dissection of the subject, right down to brush stroke level, seems to crack open hidden beauties which cannot be fully appreciated merely by looking at the big picture: the real fruit is in the minute detail. Wonderful. What a joy to be shown Ruben's genius at reproducing textures, form and light, such as in the cloth in the Four Philosophers. My eyes have been opened. Surely this proud genius, a man not averse to repeatedly committing his own image to canvas, would choke at the idea of been associated with the total lack of fluency so ably demonstrated in issues surrounding technique here.

Is it a copy? Yes, for what little my opinion is worth, I am left convinced that the National's Samson and Delilah is a pretender, and a woeful one at that. All other arguments aside, the Impressionistic structure of the statue in the background sticks in my throat like an indigestible lump of gristle. For a long lost masterpiece that suddenly turns up in 1929 in Paris (of all places), this beggars belief. Rubens: a man hundreds of years ahead of his time experimenting with a new style that also happens to be complete anathema to what he believes is right?

If the [sole] figure staring at us from the doorway is indeed the villain of the piece, I detect too much pride in his Henry VIII-like countenance. A tongue in his cheek would make it more palatable.

Great and worthy argument on this site. Compelling discussion. Good and wholesome fayre. Here I am, watching a fake being stripped down, and yet my focus is elsewhere, entirely directed toward the real achievements and appreciation of Rubens. Anyone for dessert?

Steve Carmo, London, UK

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