What violence! What drama! The superhuman strength with which God endowed the Old Testament judge Samson resides in his uncut hair. His mistress, Delilah, a Philistine, has coaxed this secret from him. She shaves his head and calls her countrymen, who lose no time in pouncing on the hero thus robbed of his might. They tie him up and gouge out his eyes. Illuminated with a harsh beam of the kind cast by a spotlight, the ghastly scene has a stage-like quality. Delilah looks back at her victim with an expression of triumph, fascination and disgust.
This painting represents one of the most spectacular acquisitions in the long history of the Städel Museum. The driving force behind the efforts to purchase it was the then director of the Städel, Ludwig Justi. He negotiated a price of 336,000 marks with the previous owners, the family of the Counts of Schönborn in Vienna, but the Städel could not raise this amount on its own. Within days, eighty-five private donors had contributed 167,700 marks. The city and the Museums-Verein also provided large sums, enabling the purchase to be concluded in May 1905.