Born in Paris, Thomas Blanchet was a key figure on the Lyon art scene in the seventeenth century. After training in the Paris atelier of sculptor Jacques Sarrazin, he seems to have soon transferred to that of Simon Vouet, having decided to devote himself to painting. At an unknown date he went to Italy; there is documentary evidence of his presence in Rome from 1647 to 1653 in the stati delle anime, the parish censuses of "souls", under such exotic appellations as Tomaso Blance, Monsù Blancis and Thomaso Blangett. During his stay he was influenced by the seemingly contradictory trends coexisting in Rome at the time, the Classicism of Poussin and the Baroque of Algarde and Andrea Sacchi; both of the latter apparently held him in high regard. His capriccios, stylistically reminiscent of Poussin but compositionally close to Jean Lemaire in their architectural emphasis, quickly became sought after by collectors.
In 1652–1653 Blanchet was commissioned to design the mausoleum of Renée de Voyer d’Argenson in Venice, whose execution was entrusted to Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy and the sculptor Claude Perreau. In 1655 Blanchet moved to Lyon, where he found official status: he decorated the Hôtel de Ville (1655–1672) and the Abbaye des Dames-de-Saint-Pierre (1674–1684, now the Museum of Fine Arts), as well as providing ephemeral decors for celebrations, ceremonies and funerals, often hand in hand with the Jesuit priest Ménestrier. In 1675 he was appointed First Painter of the City and around 1681 he took Cretey, just back from Rome, as one of his collaborators, thus allowing the younger man to make his brilliance known.
Samson Carrying Away the Gates of Gaza made its first appearance at a public auction in Stockholm around 1980, before losing its attribution some years later to Jean Lemaire (1598–1659). This error was corrected by Lemaire's specialist, who was unaware that the work figured in the Blanchet catalogue drawn up by Lucie Galactéros-de Boissier; the latter had not seen it and described her attribution as hypothetical. The scattered building fragments in the foreground are very much in the spirit of the artist's Roman capriccios, as is the palette: the contrasts between the browns of the ruins and the bluish-greys of a sky whose clouds have been highlighted with luminous impasto are characteristic of Blanchet's early period.
This work, which falls midway between landscape and prospettiva, originally formed a pair with Samson Fighting the Lion (see supra ill. 1, p. 14): the two thirds of the composition tightly packed with architectural features, the prospect of a river closed off by a distant horizon of blue-tinged mountains, and the slender tree with its zigzag trunk counterbalancing the upright fluted columns with their Corinthian capitals, establish a perfect symmetry. The wild look of the river and its bushy banks in the left background remind us of Poussin's and Dughet's studies of the winding Tiber; Blanchet probably followed their example, although no studies attributable to him have come down to us. Ultimately the Biblical episode in question is quite secondary; it effectively enlivens the picture, but with no concern for literal accuracy: our hero carried away the gates of the city at midnight.