Spanish, c. 1400–1452
Saint George Killing the Dragon
Tempera on panel
61 1/4 x 38 5/8 in. (155.6 x 98.1 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Richard E. Danielson and Mrs. Chauncey B. McCormick, 1933.786
A model of Christian knighthood, Saint George was a popular figure in the late Middle Ages. This painting shows him at the climax of his most famous adventure, in which he saves a town and rescues a beautiful princess threatened by a fierce dragon. Dressed in armor and mounted on a white horse, the knight is about to kill the dragon, while the princess, dressed in a pink gown and fur-trimmed cloak, kneels on a bluff to his right.
Bernat Martorell’s painting was the central panel of an altarpiece executed for a chapel dedicated to Saint George in the kingdom of Catalonia in what is now northeastern Spain. Saint George was the region’s patron saint. The image is filled with details that reveal the artist’s skill at observation and help bring the story to life. Bones litter the foreground, lizards crawl around the crevice where the dragon lives, and crowds line the castle’s battlements in the background. Despite these realistic elements, the space in the painting is not unified. The landscape is viewed from above, figures are seen head-on, and the castle is seen from several different vantage points. The artist flattened the main figures by using little modeling and decorating their form with gilded stucco details, as in the saint’s halo, the trimming on his armor, and the princess’s crown. The unrealistic space, flat form, and decoration are all characteristic of the International Gothic style.
A native of Sant Celoni, a small town in Catalonia, Martorell is one of the most significant artists of his generation. In addition to paintings, his workshop produced manuscript illuminations, stained-glass windows, flags, and coats of arms. Certain features of Saint George Killing the Dragon, such as the style of architecture in the fortress, the enclosed gardens, and the fruit and cypress trees, suggest the Catalan locale, even though the story was said to have taken place in the Middle East.
Steel, chiseled, etched, and gilded; brass; and leather
H. 177.8 cm (70 in.)
George F. Harding Collection, 1982.2102a–t
This 16th-century suit of armor from Milan is similar to Saint George’s suit in Martorell’s 15th-century painting. Made of etched and gilded steel, the plate-armor pieces (forming a garniture) would have been worn by a knight during battle and jousting tournaments. Knights followed a code of chivalry that included defending religion, protecting the needy, and fighting "well and fairly."
Whether in battle or competition, it was hard to tell who a knight was when he was fully armored. A coat of arms worn over the suit became his identification. Saint George’s identification—a scarlet cross—is emblazoned on the white, sleeveless surcoat he wears over his armor.