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A Rubens Masterpiece? Or a Fake?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2021

This is Samson and Delilah, a painting attributed to the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens that hangs in the National Gallery in Britain.

a painting of Samson and Delilah attributed to the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens

Since the late 90s, there’s been some doubt cast upon the painting’s authorship, summarized in this short video:

From a recent piece in the Guardian about an AI art-analysis algorithm that declared Samson and Delilah is not a Rubens painting:

Critics have long argued that it is only a copy of a Rubens original that is known to have been painted between 1608 and 1609 for his Antwerp patron Nicolaas Rockox which then disappeared after his death in 1640.

They argue that the National Gallery picture is a different painting, one that only surfaced in 1929, declared a Rubens by Ludwig Burchard, an expert who, after his death in 1960, was found to have misattributed paintings by giving out certificates of authenticity for commercial gain.

The picture’s critics dismiss its colours as uncharacteristic of Rubens’s palette and its composition as awkward. They question why, for example, it differs from two contemporary copies made from Rubens’s original. The toes of Samson’s outstretched right foot, for example, are cropped in the National Gallery version, while they are shown in an engraving by Jacob Matham and a painting that depicts the Samson and Delilah hanging in Rockox’s home by Frans Francken the Younger.