Friday, August 21, 2009

Saint George Killing the Dragon

Title: Saint George Killing the Dragon

Artist: Bernat Martorell

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 141 x 96 cm

Date: 1430-35

Location: Art Institute of Chicago.

Saint George (ca. 275/281 – 23 April 303) was, according to tradition, a Roman soldier in the Guard of Diocletian, who is venerated as a Christian martyr. In hagiography Saint George is one of the most venerated saints as well as being the patron saint of several nations. The episode of Saint George and the Dragon is Eastern in origin, brought back with the Crusaders and retold. The city of "Silene," Libya, was terrorized by a dragon. To appease the dragon the people used to feed it a sheep every day, but when the sheep failed, they fed it their children. One day it happened that the lot fell on the king's daughter who was led away to be fed to the dragon. By chance, St George rode past, subdued the dragon, and led it back to Silene. The people were terrified, but St George called out to them, saying that if they became Christians he would slay the dragon. The king and the people of Silene converted and George slew the dragon.

The principal axis of the composition is determined by St George's long spear. In addition to this, a single imaginary vertical line connects the eyes of the dragon, of the horse and of the princess. In the form of a letter V the two straight lines flank the bastion of the royal castle. Bones of humans and animals are scattered on the ground. In the background, in the middle of civilized, idyllic scenery is the royal castle, surrounded by a moat, on whose emerald waters swans are swimming. The crowd gathered on the balconies and bastions of the building watch with excitement to see how the fight will end. The light is reflected in different ways by the grains of sand, by the smooth rock, by the dragon's skin and its belly, by the metal amour and by the precious stones. Only the frightened eyes of the dragon and of the horse convey the dramatic qualities of the scene. Fright would be unworthy of the saint; his face is etherealized and serene.

Bernardo Martorell (b. ca. 1400, Sant Celoni, d. 1452, Barcelona) was a Spanish painter, working in an Early Renaissance style. He worked as a panel painter and illuminator in the service of the city of Barcelona, but he was often given the task of preparing designs for stained glass windows and for sculptures as well. This composition was originally the centre panel of an altarpiece; the two volets, with panels representing the saint's martyrdom, are preserved in the Louvre in Paris.

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