Artibus et Historiae no. 26 (XIII)

1992, ISSN 0391-9064

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DIDIER BODART - The Death of Samson by Peter Paul Rubens: A Previously Unpublished Transitional Work from the Italian Period

The discovery of The Death of Samson, recently acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, Cal., sheds considerable light on the artistic evolution of the young Peter Paul Rubens at the court of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. Although cited in inventories of the Cosini collection in Florence from the mid-eighteenth century, this important masterpiece long remained obscure.

The painting is all but unique for a work of Rubens's relatively underdocumented Italian period (1600-08) in that, as the radiographic evidence shows, it is physically intact, the canvas never having been remounted; its support is also very likely original.

A dating of 1605 is proposed because, in addition to reflecting the influence of the frescoes in the Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te, The Death of Samsonshares similarities in technique with Rubens's paintings of 1605-05 (sic) for the Mantuan church of the Holy Trinity, as well as with other works he executed at this time. The picture represents a synthesis of his experiences in Italy thus far, and presages the full blossoming of his genius upon his return to Flanders.

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