This painting, loosely inspired by the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, was created by the Spanish artist, José Etxenagusia Errazquin (also known as José Echenagusia Errazquin, c. 1844–1912). The reclining man in the painting is José Etxenagusia Errazquin’s interesting depiction of Samson, a mighty Israelite warrior with superhuman strength who used his power to fight the Philistines—a mysterious seafaring people that invaded and settled a section of the Palestine coast around the 12th century BC. Sitting beside Samson is the artist’s representation of Delilah, a woman in whom the Israelite warrior confided the precious secret to how his mighty strength was maintained. As the story goes, he told her that if his long hair was cut, then so too would he be severed from his supernatural strength. Unfortunately for Samson, Delilah was actually in cahoots with the Philistines. Delilah and her accomplices exploited Samson’s weakness to capture the Israelite warrior. The story is told in the Book of Judges:
“After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza” (Judges 16:19-21, NIV version).
Such is the story that inspired José Etxenagusia Errazquin’s painting. Nevertheless, the Orientalist artist definitely took liberties with his depiction, especially with the seemingly-Egyptian themes that he curiously infused into the painting. Questions aside, José Etxenagusia Errazquin did indeed label the painting as Samson and Delilah, and, as can be ascertained by Samson’s intact hair and the lack of Philistine warriors rushing into the room, the painting must depict a scene from early on in the relationship of Delilah and the doomed warrior.
Written by C. Keith Hansley