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This thesis explores images of Samson and Delilah in northern Europe in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. My research focuses primarily on Lucas Cranach’s painting, Samson and Delilah of 1528-30, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. By examining prints and decorative artworks that include the Samson and Delilah narrative, it is my goal to understand where Cranach’s painting fits into the larger art historical picture. Through examining the locations and suggested meanings of other works, I hope to establish that it is also possible to understand the intention and meaning behind Cranach’s painting. I analyze the work within the context of social changes and attitudes of the sixteenth century in the North, particularly concentrating on attitudes towards women and the Reformation. I examine the prominence of the subject and how it functioned in a society continually concerned with sexual promiscuity and the possibility of the overthrow of the established sexual hierarchy.
I consider Cranach’s Samson and Delilah as a reaction to popular print imagery of the same subject and its inclusion in Power of Women series. I argue that Cranach was able to take a subject and series of works that were popular in the print market and put it into a painting that would have been appropriate for his aristocratic and middle class patrons and buyers. I contend that the work quite possibly was part of a larger series, or thought process, of Power of Women images, and that Cranach was particularly inspired by series of printmakers like Lucas van Leyden. My goal is to portray Lucas Cranach not only as an artist, but as a businessman who was conscious of subject trends in prints and was able to utilize these images in order to produce paintings that would successfully sell.
Advisor: Alison Stewart