after Rubens: the strange story of the Samson and Delilah
 
 
National Gallery Press Releases

We have received several comments noting that we have only published one side of the case, and asking what the National Gallery's response to criticism of the Samson and Delilah has been over the years.

In October 1997, in response to a series of articles questioning the Samson and Delilah's authenticity, the National Gallery issued a press release, which clearly stated their position at the time. In fact, they issued two almost identical press releases a short time apart - one ends with a paragraph which calls for a public lecture and debate, while in the other that final paragraph is not there.

You can download the first press release as a PDF or view it on a webpage. Any newer statement concerning the Samson and Delilah will be published immediately on this site. If you would like a more up-to-date response in the meantime, we recommend that you contact the National Gallery directly.

We draw your attention to the following points in the press release:

It states that "The picture does not look like the other works in the Gallery by Rubens because it is the only work in this Collection typical of the artist when he returned from Italy to Antwerp in 1608". The then Director, Neil MacGregor, names three paintings which he says match the Samson and Delilah in terms of 'figure drawing, colour, composition and paint handling' - these are:

Raising of the Cross
in Antwerp
Cimon and Pero in St Petersburg
Susanna and the Elders in Madrid

We disagree. In fact, we invite direct comparisons with these three paintings to support our case, and believe the evidence is clear. For the Raising and the Susanna we have already demonstrated our objections in the 'Style and Handling' section of the Flash movie explaining our case.

The Raising of the Cross offers particularly compelling comparisons since it depicts very similar figures to the the Samson and Delilah: our considered conclusion, echoed by more people every day, is that it is vastly superior in figure drawing, colour and paint handling.

We have also looked at the statue in the Susanna and the Elders, and will shortly add further comparisons from this painting as well as from the Cimon and Pero.

The dendrochronology test which dates the wood on which the Samson and Delilah is painted to 'around 1600' does not of course reveal anything about the work's authorship. We know this was a much painted subject, and such was Rubens's status that he was widely copied by his contemporaries: both students and others.

The statement that none of the people who had raised objections had published scholarly work on Rubens is a red herring: we believe it is the evidence against the painting that should be answered, and openly invite considered opinions and evidence from all interested parties.

The press release opens with the statement that "The Samson and Delilah has long been unanimously accepted by all the leading Rubens scholars as a major painting by Peter Paul Rubens" and words to this effect have been frequently repeated in the painting's defence elsewhere. Further down, an impressive group of those scholars is listed by name. It would be more useful, however, to hear arguments and evidence in defence of the attribution, rather than names and titles.

The final paragraph of one of the press releases states

"Debates of this sort require patient consideration of different sorts of evidence. The best format is for this evidence to be presented at some length for public discussion - and the National Gallery will be arranging such a lecture and debate over the next few months."

We agree, and hope that eight years later a genuinely inclusive debate can take place.


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