One hundred and eight

Samson Slaying a Philistine

c1562 by Giovanni Bologna
Victoria & Albert Museum

Bologna’s sculpture is one of the many spectacular works of art now on show in the V&A’s new Medieval and Renaissance galleries. Curated with intrigue and precision, the new rooms are an overwhelming success; they are fascinating to wander through, the displays of art ranging widely, from armour and tapestry to the installation of the magnificent fifteenth-century Santa Chiara Chapel. Florentine art features throughout the exhibition; though Bologna was originally from Belgium, he was highly influenced by Michelangelo’s work and moved to Florence to work. Samson Slaying a Philistine is a wonderfully dramatic piece; full of movement it freezes Samson mid-blow as he brings down an ass’s jawbone, what legend tells he killed a whole army of Philistines with, on the recoiling man below. The power of this lifted arm, paired with the tensed other that tightly grips, makes Samson’s God-like strength immediately apparent; his rippling torso a stronghold for his towering stance. The cowering Philistine is awkwardly twisted in comparison, pulled back brutally, yet creating a pose that is strangely beautiful. He is contorted, made to be weak with the ease of his possession, but curling in a pose that demonstrates the natural curve and agility of the human body. The manipulation of these bodies is what gives this statue its awesome presence, they are filled with such movement; indeed, the bodies seem to move as one walks round, the pose changing from the different angles of viewpoint.

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Filed under Sixteenth-Century

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