Saint George and the Dragon

Saint George is the patron saint of over ten countries and fourteen cities in the world, he is recognized in the Anglican Church, by the Roman Catholics and in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Vodou he is a representative of the loa or orisha Ogoun, who is he that presides over fire, politics and war. The legend of Saint George stems from ancient Rome, where he was supposedly a soldier in the Guard of Diocletian. The name George means, “worker of the land”, and according to historians, George grew up in a noble, military, Christian household around 280 A.D. His parents died when he was in his early teens, and with this turn of events in his life he decided to join the military himself. The Emperor Diocletian at that time announced that all Christian soldiers should be put to death. George refused to denounce his Christianity and convert to being a pagan, so in the end was tortured brutally and put to death.
The famous myth of Saint George and the Dragon starts in the city of Lydda (or Silene, depending on the version you are referencing). In this city, there was a dragon that built it’s dwellings in the closest spring, which was the people’s only source of water. On a daily basis, they would make an attempt to appease the dragon, so as not to suffer. A lottery was taken of youthful virgins, and when one was drawn she is sacrificed to the dragon. One day the princess was chosen, and to her families no avail was taken to the dragon. Saint George showed up, warded the dragon off with the sign of the cross, slayed the dragon and saved the princess. The people were so impressed and overjoyed, that they gave up their pagan ways and all converted to Christianity.
In 1504 the Renaissance painter Raphael painted a depiction of Saint George and the Dragon. Raphael Sanzio was raised by his poet father and well-educated mother in the city of Urbino. His parents died when he was young, and he took on an apprenticeship with the artist Pietro Vanucci, where he began his career as a painter. Raphael was one of the original “masters” and wasn’t only a painter, but also a printmaker, architect and draftsman. Raphael died at the young age of 37, but left behind him an abundance of great works and blooming apprentices. One has to wonder if Raphael connected to the figure of Saint George in some way, since they both came from prestigious families, only to be orphaned at a young age. Saint George and the Dragon, was a small piece, only 29 x 21cm, and was commissioned by the court of Urbino. The painting is stylistically assigned to Raphael’s Florentine period, and reverberates the influence of Michelangelo.
Let us briefly compare Raphael’s Saint George and the Dragon with Alberti’’s treatise On Painting. According to Alberti, there are three features that are needed in order to produce a good painting, those being: light, composition and circumscription. In this particular painting there is an equal relationship to all the forms in connection with each other. The figure of Saint George is of correct proportions, head vs. the angle to his shoulder and down to his toe. It is hard to say if the dragon is of correct size next to Saint George, because this is where the artist imagination is allowed the freedom to make such a decision, however the figure does not seem out of context. There is outline in the hills, and all the inlaying forms, in order to discern the character of each surface. Light is distributed evenly through out the plane of the painting and all seems to be generating from the same source.
In a way, Saint George and the Dragon could be looked upon as a reference to the idea of psychomachia, which entails the idea of vice vs. virtue. Think of the story it’s self, in it the people are of pagan belief, which would entail in a certain time period that, that would make them of a heathenistic nature. The dragon could be a representative for fire and lust of the spirit and body, the youth and chastity of the pure is spent on these elements of vice. Along comes Saint George bearing the arms of Christ and the “good word”, virtue and quells the fires of lust in the dragon through God’s spirit, reinstalling virtue to the sacred princess, where as in turn the people give up their pagan ways and reform to Christianity.
Colorito vs. disegno, which is actually Italian for color vs. drawing, but with the idea of extending beyond the concept of draftsmanship. How do these essentials in art make up the painting in discussion? Well disegno in the Renaissance time was supposed to be the highest form of painting. If the artist was able to combine skill with invention, to create an image that came the closest to life through art, then they had accomplished this concept. Where as with colorito, it was said to be purely an adorned technique, that required no imagination and that was popular with the Venetians. Often times the over saturation of colorito was used to compensate for the lack of skill when using disegno. When referring to Raphael’s painting in this context, the color’s are more muted and it seems that the study of the figure, the layout of the plane and the visual demonstration of the knowledge of form takes precedence in this piece, reflecting that in fact disegno plays an important factor here and over rules colorito. When taking in to consideration all of these encompassing points in relation to Raphael’s Saint George and the Dragon, I think that any art historian or member of the general public for that matter would agree that it is one of the master paintings of the Renaissance.

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