Saint Georges and the dragon
Florence, 1397 - Florence, 1475
1430-35, painted wood panel, 131 x 103 cm
Italian Museum – Florentine Gallery
The Golden Legend of Jacques de Voragine conjures up the heroic story of the knight George who delivers a city besieged by a dragon. This painting on wood by the Florentine painter Paolo Uccello portrays Saint George running the dragon through with his lance, as it prepares to devour the daughter of the king. The story tells that the monster left the city alone, on the condition that it was fed regularly. However, after sheep and young people, it was the turn of the princess.
This subject, of Oriental origin, was taken up by Christians to symbolise the deliverance of the church, oppressed by Paganism. As this combat was an important episode in the legend of Saint George, it is frequently depicted in paintings and sculptures.
Saint George, mounted on a white horse and bearing a red cross, runs the monster through with his lance in front of the entrance to its cave. From a distance, the praying princess observes the scene. The three protagonists are aligned as a frieze in the foreground, before a huge cave which separates a landscape of cultivated fields into two parts. At the centre, a wide path leads to the city gates.
Paolo Uccello, who was said to be obsessed by the representation of perspective, tried his hand here. The left part of the painting still demonstrates the traditional method of representation, while the other is an attempt to innovate. This complexity is very characteristic of Paolo Uccello’s art, and this hesitation only serves to render the work more precious. Another version preserved in the National Gallery in London shows that the painter later succeeded in mastering this problem.