In the 17th century, Jacob van Oost I was the most prominent painter in Bruges. He spent several years in Italy, where he was heavily influenced by the work of Caravaggio. In the spirit of the Counter Reformation, Van Oost painted numerous altarpieces for Bruges’ churches and monasteries. In addition, he worked as a portrait painter to the bourgeoisie. His son Jacob van Oost II also made his name as a Bruges portraitist and history painter.
Flemish Baroque painting exhibits a pronounced tendency towards specialisation. In the major art centres of Antwerp and Brussels, certain artists turned to monumental history paintings: historical, Biblical or mythological scenes.
Other painters specialised in portraits, landscapes, paintings of everyday scenes – known as genre paintings – or still lifes. Painters became masters of various sub-genres, such as the flower piece, the fruit still life, the animal piece, or the trompe l’oeil still life, into which vanitas symbolism, or symbols of transience, were incorporated.
The various genres were popular with collectors and featured prominently in their art displays and chambers of wonders.
This copy after the work of Anthony van Dyck depicts the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah. The secret of Samson’s strength lies in his unshorn hair. Delilah seduced him into sharing this secret with her, whereupon she betrayed him by cutting his locks at night. The painting shows the moment when the Philistines overpower the weakened Samson.
This composition draws on a tapestry design by Rubens featuring the Greek hero Achilles. To prevent him from being killed in the Trojan War, Achilles’ mother hid him, disguised as a woman, on an island, where he lived amongst the king’s daughters. He was unmasked by Greek army commanders dressed as traders. Achilles betrayed himself by reaching for the weapons that lay hidden within the merchandise.
According to the Biblical story, two elderly judges falsely accused the chaste Susanna of adultery after she rejected their advances. In this justice scene, the emphasis lies on the just intervention of the wise prophet Daniel. He unmasked the old men by interrogating them separately about a number of details on which they gave conflicting answers. They were sentenced to death for their lies and abuse of power.