The

Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Saint George and the Dragon and Vita - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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E036. Saint George and the Dragon with Vita

Russian
19th century
Tempera on gesso and wood
Panel: 36.5 x 30.5 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

Provenance:  UK art market, Private Collection USA

Condition:  Good condition

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The imagery of a mounted warrior saint slaying a monster is widespread in Roman times and is found on Jewish and pagan amulets as well as those of the mystery religions of North Africa. (See Erwin R, Goodenough Jewish Symbols in the Graeco-Roman Period, 1965, Bollingen Foundation). The ancient Egyptian image of the god Horus slaying a crocodile may be an early prototype of the symbolism. George’s cult in Christianity is first documented in 323, though no reliable evidence concerning his existence has ever been accepted by scholars.

Of all the saints Saint George was the most frequently represented throughout Byzantium, first as a standing Roman warrior and, after the 10th century, on horseback (See Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, OUP 1991, Vol. II). The legend of the princess and the dragon seems to originate in the 12th century but this anecdote is often not shown.

The higher meaning of the icon does not depend on narrative but on spiritual and cosmological symbolism. Saint George represents ‘spiritual warfare’: the struggle of the soul to free itself from the world and the lower nature in order to participate in what early theologians called the ‘Energy’ coming down from the Divine World. For a fuller discussion of the iconography’s cosmic symbolism see Temple, R., Icons and the Mystical Origins of Christianity, Element Books, 1990, pp. 121-125).

Saint George became the patron of saint of England when the cult was brought back from Palestine by Crusaders in the 10th century. He is widely venerated throughout Europe and in many countries. The story goes that he rescued the princess who had to be given in sacrifice to the dragon. Saint George came by on his white charger and saved her just before she was devoured by the beast.

The miraculous events from the Life of the saint are:

1, St George defies the emperor Diocletian by declaring his Christian faith. He is tortured: 2, on the wheel; 3, in the furnace; 4, by wearing burning boots and 5, by flagellation. 6, St George appears again before the emperor. 7, he raises a man from the dead. 8, he miraculously saves a bull. 9, he is beheaded. 10, he rescues the slave named George from Mytilene. 11, the miracle of the missing pillar. 12, he displaces pagan idols.

Detail Images