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.

You are viewing comments ordered by the number of reader recommendations they have recieved; you can also order them chronologically with the most recent first.

Viewing comments 1 to 10 of 106
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Submitted: 20 October 2005, 10:44:12 PM
  Congratulations for the taste that went into the design of your site and for the erudition behind the taste.

You have proven, to my satisfaction at least, that the painting is a fake and that the National Gallery should not display it as a genuine, hand-painted oil painting by the Master himself. No doubt, it would please you if the National Gallery acknowledged the error of its ways and took down the painting forthwith. But this will not happen any time soon.

What is at stake here has nothing to do either with authenticity or provenance. We are talking about large amounts of cash paid for the painting, large commissions, the reputation of authenticators, the vanity of Trustees, and the inability of Directors to admit that they’ve been taken in. Consequently, despite your justified indignation, the painting will stay where it is. Countless visitors to the National Gallery will glance at it for five seconds and reassure themselves they’ve seen still another Rubens. Such is the habit of most visitors in all art galleries. They look without seeing. Consequently, they doesn’t care one way or the other about whatever it is they may be looking at.

The few who do pay attention to whatever they’re looking at, are creatures from a different planet. They don’t visit museums and art galleries because they’ve got nothing better to do this afternoon. They go there because they crave the company of their betters. Naturally, not wishing to lose face, they do homework before going in. They read biographies, and monographs, and dissertations, and convoluted arguments about obscure technical issues related to the items they propose to feast their eyes upon. Some of them are sufficiently perverse to know the difference between iconography and iconology. Some feel as strongly about disegno as others feel about colore. In short, the extra-terrestrial minority does not speak the same language as the average tourist, the average art historian, the average Museum Trustee, and the average Museum Director. Tourists look at works of art because they’ve been told to. Art historians because it’s their job. Museum Trustees because they’re stock-brokers and wish to be mistaken as sensitive. Museum Directors because they want a knighthood. Extra-terrestrials look at works of art because, if they don’t, their soul will wither and die.

It seems that this site has been put together by outraged extra-terrestrials hoping to communicate with members of their tribe. Well then! Message received!

Basil Coukis, Nashua, NH, USA

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Submitted: 29 October 2005, 12:55:01 PM
  Cutting off the toes of a hero's foot is a clear sign that this painting is not the work of a master. Rubens was a great respecter of naked feet and I am shocked that the National Gallery can hang a painting by someone who has such contempt for the sensitivities of modern, art-loving, pediphiles.

Terry Gilliam, Filmmaker, London, UK

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Submitted: 14 March 2006, 9:07:37 AM
  Of course it is difficult to determine the true gradations of color and shadow from a photo measuring about 3" by 3", but from the photo provided, the painting seems to lack the gradations of color and tone, of light and shadow (or the absence of light) that characterize the paintings of Rubens. The overall impression of the photo posted here is that it is too light and too lacking in detail, too lacking in the intriguing, varying shadows that pull normally pull one into his paintings. There is too much contrast overall, no play between light and shadow. However, again, it must be noted that it is difficult to make a determination without having seen the original up close.

Tatiana, Professor , Moscow, Russia

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Submitted: 25 March 2006, 10:09:51 AM
  I am a great fan of Rubens and after reading your site I cannot but agree with you. The painting truly is fake. It was definitely NOT painted by Rubens. I am apalled that nobody has noticed it before and that the painting has been sold for so much. Rainer Richter was right in saying somone wasted a lot of money for a bad copy....

Reene, Art Student, South Afrika

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Submitted: 14 February 2006, 4:29:20 AM
  I think this website, although impressively put together, is missing the point. Whether or not the painting is by Rubens doesn't matter in the long run. When you really step back and look at it, it's a great painting, no matter who painted it. Art will last forever, but this painting and all the money the National Gallery paid for it won't, so why should we care in the first place? We should just enjoy it for what it is.

Kevin

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Submitted: 14 April 2006, 7:24:06 AM
  The evidence is outstanding that this is not a Rubens orginal. I will be using this in art history. Thank you!

Jane E. Smith, teacher, Corona, CA, USA

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Submitted: 01 April 2006, 5:46:51 AM
  I found this site and the problems you raise more than interesting. In particular, your presentation is excellent especially because it is so specific and it could be used by teachers to suggest how to analyze the elements of any painting. Most impressive.

Your analysis has convinced me that there is indeed a problem here. Your comments about the amputated toes, the beard and the carpet certainly support your case. [As far as the missing toes are concerned, it is hard to explain why even a lazy painter would do this. The two copies of the original [lost?] painting are further cogent elements in your arguement.

In any case, do let my congratulate those who designed this site for their intelligence for a site that is outstanding for clarity and interest.

Finally, it's not clear to me why you people are doing this?

Thanks again.
Yours truly,
Luther Link
[author of THE DEVIL;A MASK WITHOUT A FACE, Reaktion books, London]

Luther Link, Professor, Kawasaki, JAPAN

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Submitted: 18 February 2006, 11:32:20 AM
  I'm not sure I agree with all the criticisms of the piece used in making the case that it is not a genuine Rubens. Much of the critique of the head modeling and skin texture mysifies me..no matter who painted these figures, he did a skillful job. The "waxiness" in the face of the old woman is attributable to the extreme lighting; the supposed crudity in the depiction of the ear is anything but - the ear displays excellent anatomical modeling, even if its paintstrokes are not overwhelmingly subtle. As a fan of Rubens, I can see no lack of anatomical ability on display in the main figures of this painting. It is simply painted in a slightly different lighting than most of Rubens' works.

That being said, there are two compelling aspects that give the painting away as the work of another artist--the cut-off toes and the crude statue in the background. I agree that these are telltale signs.

Rubens would never have cut off the feet of his protagonist..it wasn't just that Rubens enjoyed painting feet, but it's simply bad figure painting composition. In a historical or mythological painting one does not cut off the body parts of the hero. The entire body should be shown.

And the statue on the wall simply could not have been painted by Rubens. It isn't just that it's painted badly--which it undeniably is. It also depicts a raw-boned, small-waisted female figure that Rubens would never have idealized in a work of art.

The same is true, to a slightly lesser degree, of Delilah herself. Her lanky height and musculature are not a problem, but her feet are bony (by Rubens' standards). She also lacks a double chin, even though her head is bent in a position that would create a roll of flesh on a relatively slender face. And the beauties in Rubens' works (-indeed, in the works of most pre-20th Century artists) did not have slender faces. Rubens would never have missed the opportunity to give his Biblical seductress a fashionable Baroque double chin.

Also, consider Delilah's hand. Her hand is thick and muscular--it is the hand of a laborer, not a 17th century female prototype. Rubens would never have painted a female hand that looks like that. He would have either made the hand lilting and slender-fingered (as in his famous portraits of Helene Fourment) or he would have made the hand chubby and dimpled (as he often did when he let his sexual preferences dominate a human figure).

The painting is not by Peter Paul Rubens.

It may, however, have been sketched by him and painted by a lesser apprentice in his own studio. Or it could be the forgery of a modern artist.

Kevin Tuma, artist/cartoonist, Hillsboro, Texas, USA

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Submitted: 10 April 2006, 4:12:13 AM
  I had a different experience at first from some others who have commented here. Superficial examination of the National Gallery painting on my computer screen and an agreeable willingness to be persuaded made me think the painting might be okay, although I did quickly notice the disproportionate hands and arms, the odd angle of Delilah's head, and the way Samson's arms seems to dangle disconnectedly from anything else in the painting, much less Delilah's leg where it supposedly rests.

Since my college days I have felt that we are done an injustice by only studying the masterpieces, whether of literature, painting or some other field. One gets accustomed to excellence and loses one's appreciation for what lies behind the beautiful surfaces in terms of work, learning, technique... It is the struggle to achieve something worthwhile that can be most instructive to the student, whether experienced vicariously or by direct means.

Therefore, as a sometime student of art, I am profoundly grateful to have stumbled upon your detailed and incisive comparison of the various works attributed to Rubens. I am even grateful for the existance of the forgery itself, whether it was intended as such or merely an imitation by an admiring, aspiring painter of the distant past. Its valiant attempt at greatness makes the brilliance of Rubens sparkle in its dull light and what's more, now I really understand. I plan to recommend the site to my friends and family as a crash course in painterly technique, a "what to look for" when visiting museums.

Margaret Wolfe-Roberts, mother, Spanish interpreter, Oxford, U.K.

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Submitted: 28 March 2006, 7:46:33 PM
  Aliens at the edge of the universe observing us through weak telescopes can see that this isn't by Rubens.

ross miller, london, uk

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