Rembrandt’s Samson Tells a Riddle at His Feast

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The renowned artwork, Samson Tells a Riddle at his Feast, was created by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn to depict a significant biblical moment. It portrays the scene where Samson and his wife celebrate their wedding feast. This painting is based on the events described in Judges 14 of the Bible, which tells the story of Samson encountering a Philistine woman and deciding to marry her. However, their joyous occasion is interrupted when a ferocious lion appears and threatens their union. Nevertheless, Samson’s determination to be with his beloved enables him to defeat the lion and continue with the wedding festivities.

Samson makes an odd discovery inside the lion’s carcass: a swarm of bees surrounding a honeycomb. This leads him to create a riddle which he shares with all the guests at his wedding feast. The riddle states: “Meat came out of the eater, and sweetness came out of the strong.” Samson offers a reward to anyone who can solve the riddle within seven days. Unable to unravel the riddle, the guests plead with Samson’s wife to disclose its meaning.

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Samson’s wife is unaware and requests the answer from him. He declines for seven days until he finally gives in to her pleas and discloses it. Subsequently, she divulges the answer to her guests, who confront Samson with it. In response, he scolds and penalizes all of them, including his wife, for betraying him. Samson leaves his wife but later regrets his choices and reconciles with her. The Philistines inform him that they have already wedded her to another person.

Rembrandt’s artwork, inspired by the biblical tale of Samson and his riddle at his wedding feast, serves as an artistic representation of the story. The painting depicts various individuals conversing, including Samson and a group of young men. However, the central focus of the piece is Samson’s wife, who sits alone in the middle of the room. It is intriguing that Rembrandt chose to isolate her and disconnect her from the rest of the gathering, yet he manages to highlight her presence and recognize her isolation within the composition.

An observer is unable to divert their gaze from the captivating display of this painting, although numerous intricate details and occurrences take place in the shadows. The reason behind Rembrandt’s portrayal of this scene in such a manner is not immediately apparent. However, it is evident that Samson’s wife occupies a pivotal role in Rembrandt’s artwork. An initial indication of this is the deliberate and significant arrangement of colors in the painting. The central focus is on Samson’s wife, who is enveloped by the brightest and most vibrant whites and yellows. As the perspective expands beyond her, the colors progressively deepen and darken.

The use of bright colors in the painting is immediately noticeable, particularly in Samson’s wife. Conversely, the darker hues are employed to depict the “action” in the artwork. Bright colors typically evoke happiness, positivity, and goodness, while dark colors are associated with sadness, negativity, and evil. Interestingly, Rembrandt’s painting presents an ironic reversal of these connotations. Despite the lightness of the colors surrounding her, Samson’s wife appears upset, alone, and forlorn. On the other hand, the guests, depicted in darkness, seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Consequently, Samson’s wife appears visibly miserable.

During her wedding reception, the bride is being ignored by all of her guests. The only person who seems to be purposely excluded from conversations with others is Samson’s wife. There is even a couple kissing right in front of her, further adding to her isolation. Even Samson himself disregards his wife as he entertains his guests with a riddle. He intentionally keeps the answer to the riddle from his new wife, which ultimately proves to be the right choice since she eventually reveals it in the future.

The positioning of Samson in the painting implies that he is facing away from his wife and leaning away from his seat, resulting in a feeling of tension. This could potentially indicate Samson’s eventual separation from his spouse. Furthermore, Samson’s wife seems to be uncomfortable, even within her own gathering. Her appearance starkly contrasts with the other individuals portrayed. Not only is she seated by herself, but she also looks directly at the viewer.

The viewers of the painting are seemingly the only ones who will pay any attention to her. Her posture is similar to that of a portrait. In reality, despite the busy crowd surrounding her, the painting Samson Tells a Riddle at his Feast can be seen as a solitary depiction of an unidentified woman. It is ironic that Rembrandt has made Samson’s wife the central figure in the artwork, despite her lack of name and absence from the title.

The face in this painting may suggest that Rembrandt is disregarding Samson’s wife by omitting her from the title. It is important to note that Samson is not the main focus of this artwork. Furthermore, by examining Rembrandt’s personal life, another connection and element of clarity emerges. This painting was completed in 1638, a year when Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife, struggled to raise healthy children. Sadly, both her son Rubartus and daughter Cornelia died shortly after being born.

Perhaps Rembrandt infused his artwork with the suffering and hardships he must have experienced at the time. While life may have appeared joyous to others, Saskia saw it as desolate, solitary, and filled with grief. Rembrandt may have drawn a parallel between his own wife and Samson’s wife, using her loneliness as a symbol of isolation. The radiant white light surrounding Samson’s wife could be seen as a metaphor, expressing hope that Rembrandt’s wife would one day be able to conceive a healthy child.

The various elements that contribute to the mood and message of Samson Tells a Riddle at his Feast by Rembrandt include color, tone, emotion, historical context, and the artist’s personal background. Additionally, the story of Samson and his wife plays a significant role. Analyzing these details has resulted in new perspectives and ideas for interpretation. Ultimately, all the symbols concealed within the painting intertwine to form a complex narrative contained within a single visual masterpiece.

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Rembrandt’s Samson Tells a Riddle at His Feast. (2018, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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