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Saint George and the Dragon

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Since the time of Adam and Eve, dragons have been notorious as symbols of the Devil, so no wonder that religious arts have been using them so readily. Rafael’s artistic career took place on the heyday of Christianity, so it was natural that religious plots were so popular. A small but remarkable picture Saint George and the Dragon (circa 1506) uses a recognizable mythological plot of the warrior saint overcoming the dragon to save the king’s daughter and the whole kingdom. Being one of many visual versions of this plot, it is nevertheless unique by its composition, light, and overall message of the painting.

When having a first look at this painting, a curious feeling appears. A small canvas measured just 28.5 cm × 21.5 cm has some charisma behind its small size. Indeed, what makes it special is irradiation that it sends out. There is no gloom and anxiety that often accompany battle scenes; there is no atmosphere of death and fatality. On the contrary, the painting is very lively and dynamic; everything is saturated with life and youth. The youthful George in armors, the peacefully sitting princess, and even the joyful horse all contribute to the idea of life’s victory over death.

Compared to them, the dragon looks miserable and feeble; he is doomed to lose this battle. It is quite unexpected to see that he is relatively small compared to his opponent, but it clear that the artist did it on purpose.  His intention was to underline the superiority of the good over the evil and the inevitability of God’s triumph over the Devil. The researchers pay attention to other details as well: “The grim dragon transfixed with a spear, the point of which is in his breast, whilst the broken fragments are lying on the ground, hardly looks more dangerous than the young and active Saint, whose strength seems all husbanded for the stroke of the sword which is about to fall” (Crowe and Cavalcaselle 206).

The landscape with trees and hills is marvelous as well as the composition that the artist offers. The battle of Saint George with the Dragon is taking place on the forefront, while Princess is at the background. There are multiple dimensions and hidden meaning in the picture, and this makes it so attractive. Apart from traditional interpretations about the triumph of the good and the defeat of the evil, other references come across when the painting is considered closely. For instance, it presents the polarity of active masculinity versus passive femininity and determines the role of the male and the female in society and nature. It is clear from the picture that an aspect of the male energy is performing an active action and achieving goal, while an aspect of the female nature is to wait and accept: help, salvation, situation...

Overall, the picture is simple and earthly, but it is full of compassion and spirituality at the same time. It has its special warmness that creates an impression of the world’s stability and the righteous course of events, it calms down, it puts things to their places. It soothes childish anxiety and makes the viewer confident that dragons are always defeated, after all. There is no false flatulence in the picture, it reveals the idea that heroism is simple but requires action. It is remarkable that the good is presented as an active force that is able to beat the evil with its own weapon. Killing the dragon as a sacred ritual has a deep spiritual meaning and can be considered on all levels. This can mean fighting misery and injustice in the world, and this can also mean making the right spiritual choices daily to kill one’s own dragons.

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