The drawing is the most finished preparatory study for the painting that has so far been identified, and is very close to the final composition of this outstanding canvas, one of the finest and most elaborate works of the artist’s early career. Through the intricacy of the movements depicted and the dynamism in the relationships between the figures, both the present drawing and the painting in the Met strongly convey the artist’s ability in the theatrical orchestration of this violent and emotive scene. The drama of the event, vigorously drawn, unfolds in the foreground, and just as in the painting, the large-scale figures fill the entire space, leaving only an opening to the far right, where the group of interlocking figures is counterbalanced by the architectonic linearity of a column. The drawing testifies to the rapid evolution of the young artist's skill and to his rich and sophisticated artistic vocabulary, with its vibrant use of subtle nuances of brown wash.
Guercino must have executed many drawings in preparation for this complex painting, but few have survived. Another very different study, surely created much earlier in the development of the composition and broader and more rectangular in format, is in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem.2 As Carel van Tuyll observed, ‘…the composition of the Teyler drawing appears relatively restrained in comparison with the painting: the arrangement of the figures resembles a frieze. Nor is the handling of the narrative as unified as on the canvas.’3 This much more rigorous first idea is completely rearranged in the present sheet, the scene compressed into a narrower space, like the painted version, and animated by the dramatic and expressive gestures of the figures, Delilah looking backwards towards the group of Philistine soldiers – a position that was ultimately changed in the painting.
Two further drawings for this painting have been identified by Nicholas Turner, in the Uffizi.4 One of these is a study from the model, most probably preparatory for the figure of Samson, for which another, closer study, in red chalk, was discovered by Aidan Weston Lewis in the Fondation Custodia, Paris.5
In the Metropolitan Museum there is also a preliminary compositional study related to The Raising of Lazarus, a painting, now in the Louvre, that according to Roberto Longhi was the pendant to the Samson captured by the Philistines, executed for the Cardinal Serra in 1619, with which it shares its format, and many aspects of its style.
1. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no. 1984.459.2; N. Turner, The Paintings of Guercino, Rome 2017, p. 333, no. 76
2. Haarlem, Teylers Museum, inv. no. H 1; see C. van Tuyll van Serooskerken, Guercino (1591-1666), Drawings from Dutch Collections, exhib. cat., Haarlem, teylers Museum, 1991, p. 40, no. 4, reproduced p. 41
3. Loc. cit.
4. Florence, Uffizi, Samson captured by the Philistines, inv. no. 1510 F; A seated male nude seen from the back, inv. no. 3634 S; see N. Turner, Guercino, la scuola, la maniera. I disegni agli Uffizi, Florence 2008, pp. 49-51, nos. 12-13
5. Paris, Fondation Custodia, A seated male nude seen from the back, inv. no. 2536; see N. Turner, op. cit., 2008, fig. 13a
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