Artist: Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)
Date: ca. 1497–98
Dimensions: Sheet: 16 x 11 7/8 in. (40.6 x 30.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Georgiana W. Sargent, in memory of John Osborne Sargent, 1924
Accession Number: 24.63.111
Dürer elevated the medium of woodcut to an unprecedented level of technical virtuosity. In Samson Rending the Lion, he achieved striking pictorial effects that vie with those created in contemporary engravings. Remarkable gradations of tone were realized in the lion's mane—all the more amazing if one considers that each tapered black line in the print was formed in the woodblock by chipping away the wood on either side of the intended line. Such expert and self-assured handling is particularly characteristic of Dürer's early woodcuts, dating to the 1490s. A print engraved about twenty years earlier by Israel van Meckenem served as the source for Dürer's powerful depiction of the Old Testament hero who, "suddenly seized" by the spirit of God, "tore the lion to pieces as if it were a kid" (Judges 14:6). The weaponless Samson is here shown on the lion's back, one foot pressed into its neck as he forces open its mouth.