Samson vanquishing the Lion; Lucas CRANACH the Elder; c. 1520-25; oil on panel; Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar, Weimar, Germany

Web Gallery of Art 

Samson and the lion

To understand

What you can see in this picture……

Samson victoriously fights against a lion. He gets astride it and brings it to a standstill with his left leg while he opens its mouth until the beast is torn asunder.

Lions, like eagles, are animals expressing domination; they are dangerous to Samson and Daniel who have to fight against lions and call for God’s help.


... and in other pictures

Samson is a Hebrew hero who fought against the Philistines at the time of the Judges, that is to say between the Exodus and the Kingdom. His hair is abundant for he is nazir, that is to say dedicated to God by his parents. He may not cut his hair for his head belongs to the Lord (see Samson and Delilah).

Samson’s strength manifests itself at the moment of his death when he destroys Dagon’s temple.


Not be confused with


Daniel in the Lions’Den; Peter Paul RUBENS; 1615; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art, Washington




Daniel in the lions’den.

The prophet Daniel has been unjustly condemned by the King of Babylon. He is thrown into the lions’ den but the latter do not devour him. So Daniel does not fight against the lions of which there are always several.

See Daniel and the Lions


Herakles and the Nemean Lion; 550-540 BC red figured vase



In Greco-Roman mythology,

Herakles-Hercules also fights against a lion; the one that ravages the region of Nemea is a real monster that no weapon can kill. That is why the hero seizes it round its body and begins the fight. Then seizing its head, he squeezes it with such strength that he stifles the beast. Herakles puts on the lion’s skin to protect himself and Zeus makes the animal a new constellation to perpetuate Herakles’ achievement.

Samson can be confused with Hercules all the more so as the Greek hero was identified with him at the Renaissance but Samson kills the lion by opening wide its jaws whereas Hercules stifles it.

For Samson, the bringing together with Herakles-Hercules is not fortuitous; it is made on purpose by Renaissance thinkers and artists for whom Hercules is a pagan figure but beneficial to mankind and therefore a prefiguration of Christ.



The biblical narrative

The Book of Judges, chapter 14

Samson’s mother’s is sterile but the Lord’s angel promises her a son and “he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines“ (Judges 13:5)

Samson grows up and decides to marry a Philistine woman.

Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him.

And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.  (Judges 14:5-6)


See similar pictures


The way of killing the lion is quite stereotyped but Samson’s physical appearance varies with the different periods.


Samson and the Lion; BOUCICAUT; tempera and gold on parchment from “Des cas des nobles homes et femmes”; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Paul Getty trust



Samson kills a Lion; illustrator of “Historiae celebriores veteris Testamenti Iconobus representatae” by Caspar Luiken; 1712 copperplate; Pitts Theology Library

Pitts Library



Further developments


 The lion of Juda

David has also killed a lion. This is what he says when he is about to fight against Goliath to show he is vigorous. It is true that, in the antiquity, there were many lions that attacked herds and flocks.

The lion became the emblem of the House of David, then that of the whole tribe of Juda and even a common symbol in synagogues.

But as the lion of Juda also announces the Messiah’s victory, the Book of Revelation has made it the image of Christ Triumphant, hence the success of the lion bearing or not the cross in emblems and armorial bearings.

Lambert de Saint-Omer, Liber Floridus;
end of 13th century; Diocese of Cambrai; Latin 8865, fol. 43;
manuscript department, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris



Ethiopian emperors also bore the title of Lion of Juda.

According to the legend and to biblical history, the Christian tradition of Ethiopia dates back to a very distant past. One thousand years before the coming of Christ, the queen of Sheba (Ethiopia’s former name) came to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem to test his wisdom (See Solomon and the Queen of Sheba).

The journey was made “with a very great train, with camels that bore spices, and very much gold, and precious stones” (1 Kings 10:1-13). The king fell in love with the queen and a son was born from their union. The son became king of Ethiopia under the name of Menelik I and founded the dynasty of the Lion of Juda from which the kings of Ethiopia claimed their legitimacy down to Emperor Haile Selassie who died in 1975.

King Solomon astride a Lion;
painted goat’s skin.





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