Samson, ca. 1612–16
Jacques Bellange (French, ca. 1575–1616)
Pen and brown ink, brush and brown and gray wash, on tan antique laid paper; 15 1/4 x 7 1/4 in. (38.9 x 18.4 cm)
Inscribed (lower right, in pen and brown ink): Bell.
Purchase, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 2001 (2001.568)
Few paintings survive by Jacques Bellange, a favored artist of the ducal court of Lorraine in what is today northeastern France. His reputation as one of the greatest late Mannerist artists is due primarily to his extant prints and drawings, which are distinguished by their idiosyncratic style combining courtly elegance and psychological expressiveness. This recently discovered sheet is entirely characteristic of Bellange's style as a draftsman. Flamboyant curves and curlicues are produced in a rapid ink line, delineating the figure's beard, the animal skins draped from his shoulder, and his elaborate sandals. Passages of parallel hatching, reinforced by blocky areas of wash, model his powerful, twisting form in a pose suggestive of both force and grace.
Samson and Hercules, who happen to share the attributes of lion skin and club, have both been proposed as the subject of this sheet. In the biblical account, the club Samson brandishes is the jawbone of an ass, the weapon used to defeat the Philistines. He is sometimes depicted after the battle holding the jawbone aloft, whence water would miraculously gush forth to quench his thirst.