To the early Christians a dragon symbolised evil. The conversion of a heathen country to Christianity by a saint would thus be depicted in symbolic form, as slaying a dragon with a spear. Saint George was shown in this manner to signify the conversion of Cappadocia (now part of Turkey) to Christianity. A maiden often personified Cappadocia. The story was later adapted and Saint George was said to have fought a dragon, outside the walls of a city, in order to rescue the king’s daughter who had been offered to the dragon as a sacrifice.
In the background of this work we can see Saint George on a white horse (symbolising purity) slaying the dragon whilst the princess stands to one side, her arms raised, signifying her joy at being rescued.
During the sixteenth-century Northern Italy was in a perpetual state of war. Saint George was the patron Saint of a number of Italian cities including Venice and Ferrara. At courts greatly concerned with military matters it became popular for gentlemen from among the ruling families to be depicted as Saint George, a figure associated with bravery and valour.
Continued fighting in Italy stimulated the rapid evolution of armour design and an artist able to produce accurate and skilful portrayals of armour and weapons would have been greatly appreciated. The artist has taken great care to depict the protective elements of the armour such as the Pauldrons on the shoulder, Besagew to defend the armpit and the Couter which consisted of a winged joint to protect the elbow.
Where to see this painting?
The Bowes Museum
Barnard Castle, County Durham, England, DL12 8NP
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.