Saint George and the Dragon (1480/1490) by unknown, FranceThe Toledo Museum of Art
The hero of this painting is the legendary St. George, an early Christian martyr from Anatolia (modern Turkey) in the ancient Roman Empire.
A warrior saint, he was popular in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for his defense of the Christian faith and of the weak or helpless.
According to the popular Golden Legend, stories about the saints compiled around 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine, a fierce dragon was terrorizing the town of Silene in Libya.
The townspeople appeased the monster at first by feeding it sheep everyday.
When that no longer satisfied it, they began feeding it their youths, chosen by lot.
St. George arrived in the city just as the king’s daughter was selected as the next victim.
Rushing in at the last moment, George made the sign of the cross, killed the dragon, and saved the city.
The artist emphasizes the danger by including the bones of the dragon's former victims strewn at its webbed feet.
Awed by the saint’s prowess and faith, the townspeople converted to Christianity.
Fifteenth-century viewers would have known the religious aspect of the story, but probably enjoyed the artist’s emphasis on the exciting adventures of a chivalrous knight and the references to contemporary life.
For example, the castles in the background are actual French fortresses.
The imposing fortress on the right is the castle at Tarascon in Provence in the south of France, one of the favorite residences of King René of Anjou (1406-1480).
The castle on the left is Beauclaire, which lies across the Rhône River from Tarascon.
The unknown French artist who painted this panel took inspiration from the great French miniaturists working on illuminated manuscripts,
from Flemish painters, and probably also from the work of contemporary German printmakers.
These influences can be seen in the meticulous attention to detail, particularly the castles and townspeople in the background,
like the diminutive courtiers and tapestries on the left-hand castle's tower.
Toledo Museum of Art
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