DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Samson Killing the Lion

c. 1498
Woodcut, 374 x 276 mm
British Museum, London

Upon returning from his 1495 trip to Italy, Dürer produced large woodcuts of unprecedented complexity culminating in his Samson and the Lion and his apocalypse series.

Samson, depicted as superhuman, fights a lion. The beast's death is imminent as the Old Testament hero plants his right leg on the lion's neck and prepares to rip its jaws apart. The animal's natural ferocity is surpassed by Samson's own wild expression and the agitation of his hair and clothing. Dürer's lines describe far more than contour and shading; he ably mimicked different textures and materials. The lion, other than its tail, is rendered by a myriad of short lines, not just a simple outline, to suggest its brushy fur. Longer, flame-like lines are used for its mane. Samson's muscular body, the softer fabric of his clothing and the landscape details are all handled differently. His left leg exhibits a strong contour or outline; long, slightly curving lines define the muscles of the lower leg; and small concentric strokes capture the rounded swelling of the thigh muscles. Alternating bands of light and dark, especially evident in the hillside on the right, create a convincing atmospheric perspective. The distant mountains are made using a few simple, overlapping lines, yet these are sufficient to imply their presence. The artist added a few birds above Samson's head to define the middle ground and facilitate the transition through space. Remarkable gradations from deep blacks to intense whites are apparent in the lion's head.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.