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Samson Offering His Parents a Honeycomb

Barbieri Giovan Francesco called Guercino

(Cento 1591 - Bologna 1666)

This canvas was recorded in the Borghese collection from 1633, according to critics, made in the busy workshop of Giovanni Francesco Barbieri known as Guercino, contrary to what was recently claimed by Nicholas Turner who instead considers the work to be entirely by Guercino. The subject is taken from the Bible (Book of Judges, 14), which recounts how Samson, returning from a journey to meet his future bride, finds the carcass of a lion on the street, one he had previously killed, in the meantime colonised by a swarm of bees. He takes the honeycomb, deciding to share it with his parents, but without telling them anything about its provenance.

Object details

before 1629
oil on canvas
112 x 146 cm

19th-century frame with four corner palmettes (125.6 x 171 x 8.7 cm)



Rome, Borghese Collection, ca. 1633 (Inv. ca. 1633, p. 18, no. 196, published by Corradini 1998 e dated by Pierguidi 2014); Inv. 1693, room VII, no. 389; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 23; purchased by Italian state, 1902.


  • 2011-2012 Roma, Palazzo Barberini.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1981-1983 Gianluigi Colalucci (rifoderatura, pulitura del pigmento cromatico, asportazione ridipinture e ritocchi, stuccature, reintegrazione pittorica, verniciatura);
  • 2000 OPUS (stuccature, reintegrazioni pittoriche, verniciatura).


This painting is documented in the Borghese Collection for the first time in 1633. It was described in an inventory of Cardinal Scipione’s gallery of paintings, which was found by Sandro Corradini in 1998 and dated to roughly 1633 by Stefano Pierguidi (2014). In 1650, Iacomo Manilli attributed the work to Guercino, although he confused Samson with Solomon. Later, Adolfo Venturi (1893) mistakenly identified the canvas, confusing it with another of a similar subject cited in 1658 in the account book for the painter. For her part, Paola della Pergola (1955) deemed the work in question a well-executed replica from around the 1620s, taking into consideration both the youthful style of the painting and the fact that there is no trace of it in the expense record that was kept from 1629: she therefore excluded the possibility that the work could be a replica of the one cited in 1658 or that it could have been painted after 1629.

In 1968, Sir Denis Mahon concurred with Della Pergola, confirming that the version of Samson Offering His Parents a Honeycomb held at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, was certainly made by Guercino, executed for one the members of the Barberini family. By contrast, he believed, the Borghese painting came from Guercino’s workshop, with no recognisable traces of the hand of the master; it was rather a ‘deader and duller’ work compared to the one in Virginia.

Recently, however, Nicholas Turner (2017) has completely dissented from Mahon’s view, fully attributing the canvas to Guercino in his monograph on the artist. Here he wrote that the rapid, hurried execution of some details and the quality of the materials used should be interpreted in reference to the nature of the work, which was essentially conceived as a ‘great sketch’ for the painting in the Chrysler Museum.

The subject of the painting is taken from an Old Testament episode (Judges 14). Samson returns from a journey which he made to meet his future wife. On the road he finds the carcass of a lion, which he killed on the way out; in the meantime, the carcass has been colonised by a swarm of bees. He takes the honeycomb and decides to share it with his parents, without telling them where it came from. The scene depicts the precise moment in which Samson gives half of the honeycomb to the elderly couple. No bees are represented in this version of the work; the Samson in Virginia, by contrast, shows three bees flying near the wall at the top of the scene: their formation clearly alludes to the Barberini coat of arms.

A painting with the same subject (San Francisco, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum), together with a replica of that work (Rome, private collection), was published by Mahon in 1968 (pp. 211-212, no. 101).

 Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 85;
  • J.A. Calvi, Notizie della vita, e delle opere del Cavaliere Giovan Francesco Barbieri detto il Guercino da Cento, celebre pittore, Bologna 1808, p. 146;
  • G. Atti, Intorno alla Vita e alle Opere di Gian Francesco Barbieri detto il Guercino da Cento, Roma 1861, p. 140;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 202;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 60; Longhi 1928, p. 182;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 60;
  • P. della Pergola, Itinerario della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1951, p. 40;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 50, n. 80;
  • N. Barbanti Grimaldi, Il Guercino. Gian Francesco Barbieri 1591-1666, Bologna 1957, p. 112;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (II), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVIII, 1964, p. 461;
  • N. Barbanti Grimaldi, in Il Guercino. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591 - 1666, catalogo della mostra (Bologna, Biennale d’Arte Antica, 1968), a cura di D. Mahon, Bologna 1968, p. 112;
  • D. Mahon, in Il Guercino. Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591 - 1666, catalogo della mostra (Bologna, Biennale d’Arte Antica, 1968), a cura di D. Mahon, Bologna 1968, p. 147;
  • F. Vivian, Guercino seen from the Archivio Barberini, in “The Burlington Magazine”, CXIII, 1971, p. 23;
  • L. Salerno, I dipinti del Guercino, Roma 1988, p. 191, n. 110;
  • Mahon, in Il Guercino: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591–1666, catalogo della mostra (Bologna, Museo Civico Archeologico, 1991; Cento, Pinacoteca Civica, 1991; Cento, Santa Maria del Rosario, 1991; Frankfurt, Main, Schirn-Kunsthalle 1991-1992), a cura di D. Mahon, Bologna 1991, p. 186;
  • M. Calvesi, Tra vastità di orizzonti e puntuali prospettive: il collezionismo di Scipione Borghese dal Caravaggio al Reni al Bernini, in Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, Roma 1994, p. 292;
  • A. Coliva, a cura di, La Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, n. 121;
  • S. Corradini, Un antico inventario della quadreria del Cardinal Borghese, in Bernini scultore: la nascita del barocco in Casa Borghese, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 1998), a cura di A. Coliva e S. Schütze, Roma 1998, pp. 449-456;
  • S. Lucantoni, in Il Museo senza confini. Dipinti ferraresi del Rinascimento nelle raccolte romane, a cura di J. Bentini e S. Guarino, Milano 2002, p. 224, cat. n. 52;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 28;
  • S. Prasad, in Guercino: stylistic evolution in focus, catalogo della mostra (San Diego, Timken Museum of Art, 13 2006-2007), a cura di S. Prasad, San Diego 2006, p. 49, fig. 4;
  • M. Minozzi, in Capolavori da Cento a Roma, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, 2011-2012), a cura di R. Vodret, F. Gozzi, Roma 2011, n. 21;
  • N. Turner, The Paintings of Guercino. A Revised and Expanded Catalogue raisonné, Roma 2017, pp. 416-417, n. 142.1.