NATIONAL GALLERY, Saint George And The Dragon By Raphael

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In this painting, Raffaello Sanzio–commonly known as Raphael–portrays the legend that emerged in the Middle East during the Crusades, which recounts how St. George, a soldier of the Roman army martyred by Diocletian because he did not want to renounce his faith, slew a dragon to save the daughter of a Libyan king who was destined to be sacrificed.

 

The figure of the saint on horseback, with a serpent-shaped dragon at his feet, was imported from Europe thanks to the many representations in the Coptic churches and icons in Egypt. In fact, St. George is the patron saint of Cairo.

 

This is one of the two versions on the subject created by Raphael and it belongs to a series of miniatures that the Urbino artist–one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance –painted in Florence around 1505.

 

For years, it was believed that the third Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, had commissioned the painting from the artist as a gift for King Henry VII of England, as thanks for awarding him the English Order of the Garter, of which St. George is the patron saint.

Indeed, in the painting the knight wears the garter on his calf, which bears the inscription “Honi”, the first word of the order’s motto. Recent studies have shown, however, that the small oil-on-wood painting was a gift for the king’s ambassador and not the king himself.

The scene is set in a stylized landscape of Umbria and not Libya. The horse and the knight, whose left shoulder is in the center of the panel, divide the painting into four triangles that contain the sky, the princess, the dragon and a hill. The rational division of space is very characteristic of Italian Renaissance art and is particularly evident in Raphael’s work.

 

Interesting fact: Raphael was also an architect and we have him to thank for the designs of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He was an extremely in-demand painter, so much so that he opened a small workshop to be able to fulfill all his orders. Here many students helped him to prepare the canvases or sketched his designs. Shortly before his premature death, at only 37 years old, his best students were painting a good portion of the works that he put his name to.

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