In the well-known biblical story, Delilah seduces Samson in order to discover the secret of his strength and then plots to cut a lock of his hair, leeching him of his power so she can turn him over to the soldiers who will chain him. In 1628, when Rembrandt took this betrayal as his subject, he was faced with finding a new way to portray an already familiar drama weighted with iconographic gestures and details—Delilah poised with scissors in hand, a bare-chested Samson displaying rippling muscles. As historian Simon Schama has noted, Rembrandt solved this dilemma by finding a masterful way “to suggest an entire story encapsulated in a single moment.”1 (See Figure 3.1.) Delilah occupies the center of Rembrandt’s painting, while Samson, his back to the viewer, rests his head in her lap, his face obscured by locks of hair, though the brightest light falls on his supine form. In the background a soldier charges forward from the shadows, and behind him another helmeted soldier, dimly outlined, peers past the curtain that hides his body from our view. The army of men required to subdue even a weakened Samson is merely suggested, and its charge strongly contrasted with the limp, fully clothed form of Samson. If Delilah has been in on the plot, she looks up at the advancing soldier with an expression of startled surprise, and her hands betray conflict, one buried in Samson’s golden locks, the other sifting a swatch of hair.
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