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Top of a marble column carved with images of religious figures

A white-and-tan marble capital with a large square top and small circular bottom, giving it an inverted cone shape. One side of the column depicts Samson with a lion in a headlock; one side shows Samson pulling on each side of an arch while people look on; one side shows Samson carrying a rectangular object on his left shoulder; and the other side shows several figures holding Samson down while one person cuts his hair. There are many drill holes of various sizes worked into the carving, both in decorative borders and in the detail of the scenes themselves.

Gallery Text

This capital narrates four episodes from the life of the Old Testament hero Samson: he wrestles the lion, carries off the gates of Gaza, is shorn by Delilah, and pulls down the pagan temple of the Philistines. Originally an architectural element in the cloister of Notre-Dame des Doms in Avignon, France, it is made of marble possibly ordered from Carrara, Italy, by the canons of nearby Saint Ruf. Samson’s struggles against the Philistines were often interpreted as analogous to the Passion of Christ: just as Christ was betrayed, captured, and crucified, Samson was betrayed by Delilah, taken by the Philistines, and killed as he pulled down their pagan temple. Visible

in the marble is the masterful use of the carver’s drill, especially in the deep bores of the architectural ornament and the lion’s teeth, showing the variety of effect and clarity of form that could be achieved with this tool.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Unidentified Artist
Capital with Four Scenes from the Story of Samson
Architectural Elements
Work Type
architectural element
Creation Place: Europe, France, Avignon
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2440, Medieval Art
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Physical Descriptions

29.5 x 26.1 x 26.1 cm (11 5/8 x 10 1/4 x 10 1/4 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
André-Marius Garcin, Apt, France. B. d'Hendecourt, Passy, sold to Paul Sachs, Cambridge, MA, 1920, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1922.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Meta and Paul J. Sachs
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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The four scenes are: Samson wrestling the lion; Samson carrying off the gates of Gaza; Delilah and the Philistines cutting Samson's hair; and Samson destroying the house of the Philistines.

Publication History

  • Robert Charles de Lasteyrie du Saillant, L'Architecture Religieuse en France à l'époque romane: ses origines, son développement, A. Picard (Paris, France, 1912), p. 630, repr. in b/w as fig. 642
  • Arthur Kingsley Porter, "The Avignon Capital", Fogg Art Museum Notes, ed. Margaret E. Gilman (1923), pp. 2-15, repr. figs. 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Fogg Art Museum Handbook, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1931), p. 22, repr.
  • Hans-Adelbert von Stockhausen, "Die Romanischen Kreuzgange der Provence: II. Teil: Die Plastik", Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft (1936), 8. Bd., pp. 89-171., pp. 127-129, repr. as abb. 167, 168, and 170
  • William Germain Dooley, "Immortals of French Art Join to Demonstrate National Style", Transcript (December 11 1937), part 5
  • Arts of the Middle Ages, exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1940), no. 165, repr. in b/w as pl. XXII
  • Katherine Dean Lee and Katharine Tyler Burchwood, Art Then and Now, Appleton-Century-Crofts (New York, NY, 1949), pp. 139-140, repr. in b/w as pl. 56
  • Denis Grivot and George Zarnecki, Gislebertus: Sculpteur d'Autun, Editions Trianon (Paris, France, 1965), pp. 73, 75
  • Agnes Mongan, Memorial Exhibition: Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs [1878-1965]: given and bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, exh. cat., Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, 1965), cat. no. 84, repr.
  • Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, 1967)
  • William D. Wixom, Treasures from Medieval France, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH, 1967), no. III-6, repr.
  • "Portals to Illumination", Time [magazine] (May 30 1969), p. 64, p. 64, two sides repr. in b/w
  • Linda Seidel Field, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, exh. cat., ed. Stephen K. Scher, Thistle Press and Clarke and Way, Inc. (Providence, RI, 1969), no. 45, repr.
  • Linda Seidel, "Romanesque Sculpture in American Collections. X: The Fogg Art Museum. II: The Rhône Valley, Provence, Languedoc, Western and Northern France", GESTA (1972), vol. XI, no. 2, pp. 62-63; cat. no. 3a, repr. b/w fig. 8
  • Robert P. Bergman, "Varieties of Romanesque Sculpture", Apollo (May 1978), 107, p. 374, repr. as figs. 7, 8, 9, and 10
  • Walter Cahn and Linda Seidel, Romanesque Sculpture in American Collections, volume 1: New England Museums, Burt Franklin & Co., Inc. (New York, NY, 1979), no. 18a, fig. 155
  • Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 140, repr.
  • Charles Little and David L. Simon, "Romanesque Sculpture in North American Collections. XXV. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Part V. Southwestern France", GESTA (1987), vol. XXVI no. 1, pp. 61-76, p. 75, under no. 15
  • Ilene H. Forsyth, "The Samson Monolith", The Brummer Collection of Medieval Art, Duke University Press (Durham, NC and London, England, 1991), pp. 20-55, pp. 39-45, repr. (three views)
  • Caroline Bruzelius and Jill Meredith, The Brummer Collection of Medieval Art, Duke University Press (Durham, NC, and London, England, 1991), pp. 44-45, repr. as fig. 2.18
  • Nancy Netzer, "Modes of Remembering the Classical Past", exh. cat., Boston College Museum of Art (Chestnut Hill, MA, 1995), no. 8, p. 11-12, repr. in b/w
  • Elizabeth Bradford Smith, Medieval Art in America: Patterns of Collecting 1800-1940, exh. cat., Palmer Museum of Art (University Park, PA, 1996), no. 51, repr. in b/w pp. 212-213
  • Christine Smith, ed., Before and After the End of Time: Architecture and the Year 1000, exh. cat., George Braziller (New York, NY, 2000), no. 28 in checklist; p. 38; repr. on cover and p. 41
  • Kathryn Brush, Vastly More than Brick and Mortar: Reinventing the Fogg Art Museum in the 1920s, Harvard University Art Museums/Yale University Press (Cambridge MA / New Haven, CT, 2003), pp. 54-56, repr. as fig. 25
  • Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 40, repr.
  • Andrew Chen, "Abigail and David: The Iconography of a Romanesque Capital from Notre-Dame-des-Doms, Avignon", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes (2013), LXXVI, pp. 131-136, p. 133 and note 10

Exhibition History

  • Arts of the Middle Ages, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 02/17/1940 - 03/24/1940
  • Art in East and West, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, 02/04/1955 - 02/28/1955
  • Memorial Exhibition: Works of Art from the Collection of Paul J. Sachs [1878-1965] Given and Bequeathed to the Fogg Art Museum Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 11/15/1965 - 01/15/1966; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 12/19/1966 - 02/26/1967
  • Treasures from Medieval France, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 11/15/1966 - 01/29/1967
  • Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 10/12/1967 - 12/03/1967
  • The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, 05/08/1969 - 06/22/1969
  • Memory and the MIddle Ages, McMullen Museum of Art, Chestnut Hill, 02/17/1995 - 05/21/1995
  • Medieval Art in America: Patterns of Collecting, 1800-1940, Palmer Museum of Art, University Park, 01/09/1996 - 03/03/1996; Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh, 04/01/1996 - 05/26/1996
  • Before and After the End of Time: Architecture in the Year 1000, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 08/26/2000 - 01/23/2001
  • Re-View: S422-423 Western Art of the Middle Ages & Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011
  • 32Q: 2440 Medieval, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Collection Highlights
  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

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