after Rubens: the strange story of the Samson and Delilah

Press Review: Week ending Thursday 27 Oct

Friday, October 28, 2005

You can read our overview of’s impact in its first week online, or below you’ll find our comments on some of the interesting issues raised in this week’s press about the National Gallery's exhibition "Rubens: A Master in the Making" (more will be added shortly):

Simon Schama, writing in The Guardian, wondered about the exhibition’s accessibility ("There's something airless about a show conceived and executed from a place so deeply internal to the academy of connoisseurs that you can practically smell the Chardonnay.") but celebrated the revelatory potential of the glories on show: "When he is operating at the height of his powers - as in the Courtauld oil sketch for the Descent From the Cross, or the adorably nipple-guzzling Roman Charity from the Hermitage - Rubens knocks the stuffing out of you, altering your breathing pattern, if not your life."

Meanwhile, Richard Dorment (a self-confessed Rubens sceptic) writing in the Daily Telegraph felt that it brought him little new: "I kept taking my aesthetic pulse in the hope of finding a beat. Nope. Nothing." - that is until  he came to the small galleries, "Rubens is of course one of the most luminous draughtsmen in history of European art. Other northern artists in Rome drew antique statues, but Rubens's studies after the Laocoön are unique. Like a film director he moves around the statue, viewing it from front, side, back, and even from below.".

William Packer in the Financial Times asked "Will the old controversy of the 'Samson''s authenticity revive? The direct comparison with the Massacre of the Innocents, with which it shares so much not just in the handling but also in the individual character of the models, should have secured it by now." He may be satisfied, but we couldn't disagree more: our direct comparisons with the Massacre in the 'Style and Handling' section of the Flash movie surely raise more questions than they answer; and if the feedback we have received in the first week is anything to go by, there is a very healthy appetite for the debate.

Finally, in a significant change of heart, Waldemar Janusczczak – who in a 1997 article in the Sunday Times wrote of the Samson and Delilah "The one thing all we doubters agree on is that the painting bought by the gallery for a staggering sum in 1980 is not by Rubens" – came out with praise for it in the same newspaper this week: "...the painting that beats least about the bush on the subject of Rubens's sexual appetites is his extraordinarily sleazy Samson and Delilah. [He] brings so much more to the table than is actually asked of him by the subject."  It would be useful to know what he has seen in the painting in the intervening years to bring about this rethink.

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