Samson Slaying a Philistine – 1562 Marble
Giovanni Bologna - V&A Museum
The single most striking aspect of this sculpture is the artist’s ability to capture two figures in motion in such a way that the work itself can be viewed from multiple vantage points, creating a true three-dimensional effect. Most artists sculpt with a specific viewing angle in mind from which the work can best be admired. This dramatic pose of two bodies intertwined strays away from this logic. It can be viewed from various angles and one would be hard pressed to select the best vantage point.
This sculpture itself depicts the Jewish hero Samson fighting a Philistine using only a jawbone of an ass as a weapon. In the biblical book of Judges, Samson was given supernatural strength allowing him to fight entire armies singlehandedly. This sculpture was originally based on a composition made by an aging Michelangelo, who met the young Giovanni Bologna in Rome when he was in his seventies. Francesco de Medici commissioned this work in 1562 and it is the only one to have left Italy. This was Bologna’s first great commission and the work that would set him on track to become the most famous and influential sculptor of his time.