Monday, April 23, 2012

St. George's Day

Hopefully you will have noticed the picture on the top left side of this blog.  It's the earlier, more dramatic of Raphael's two stabs (pardon the pun) at painting St. George and the Dragon.  The latter one, the one that more commonly shows up on postcards and people's walls, looks like this:

I like this picture.  (I have to say that, because what I'm about to say about it by comparison to the other St. George may not sound very flattering.)  I do like this picture.  The first thing that jumps out at the viewer is the horse.  No "my little ponies" for Raphael; this horse is handsome but tough, a sort of Gregory Peck in the equine order.  He's also looking right at the viewer—points for good eye contact.  The expression is hard to pin down exactly—there's a subtle, Mona Lisa quality to it—but the horse is certainly smiling, and almost raising its eyebrows at the same time.  Bemused, perhaps, would be the word.  "Here we go again!  Lizards for lunch."  St. George's face is, by contrast, much less expressive; to the degree that its emotion can be made out, it seems contemplative, and even melancholy.  The dragon is in its death-throws, groaning open-mouthed as the lance penetrates its chest.  Meanwhile, the princess is kneeling at prayer in the background, hands sedately folded and head a little on one side, like a woman who trusts that everything is under control—as indeed it is.  Everything about the quartet is very pretty, very finished, from the fine stitching on the horse's equipage to the plants growing outside the dragon's cave.  Perfetto.

Then there's the other picture:

This is obviously a less polished effort—it was in fact probably painted a couple years earlier, which may in part account for that fact.  The ground is simply a green spludge, an impressionistic fling at grass; and the rocks and trees in the background are likewise bland and incompletely worked.  The dragon appears to be the same animal, at least anatomically, but what a difference in expression!  Yeah, he's still on the small side, and there's no visible fire; but the punk has attitude.  He's demolished St. George's candy-striped lance—yes, that's it lying on the ground (in contrast to the saint's more understated but obviously sturdier weapon of the latter painting)—and sent the princess running for her life.

St. George is still unconcerned and baby-faced, but he hasn't yet acquired the melting expression that comes over him later.  He's cool as a cucumber and, like Yum-Yum and the moon, very wide awake.  He is probably a bit of a swell, in fact, with the backsword, and those natty plumes on his helmet (the more mature St. George gets spikes instead), and the pink-and-red color scheme he's chosen for the horse's digs.

Oh, and that horse!  My stars and daisies!  WHAT has St. George been feeding the horse?  This is not the same animal as in the later picture.  If the later one is a Gregory Peck, this is Robert Mitchum—still handsome, perhaps, but not so well proportioned and a bit on the, um, beefy side.  No coy, weary turn of the head for this beast.  He looks straight ahead of him, panting but triumphant.  The course of the battle in this picture, as in the previous one, is not in doubt.

In terms of the geometry of the pictures, it is interesting to note that the horse and the dragon share pretty much the same pose in this picture, and that their bodies again trace out parallel lines in the later one, whereas in both pictures St. George and the princess are leaning ever so slightly away from each other.  Also, Raphael was clearly much more interested in the horse and dragon than he was in the humans.  Typically male.  Weapons, tanks, army stuff—Cool beans; soldiers' personalities—What do you think we are, lady novelists?  Jane Austens?  Mmph.

I think it should be clear why I chose the earlier picture for this blog.  Yes, it's less finished than it could be—so are most of my blog posts.  I like St. George to be, if not actually sweating, at least looking sort of determined; I like the princess running away (wouldn't you?!) and the dragon putting up a good fight—because in real life, dragons don't give up so easily either.  As for the horse—well, I could take either specimen.  The both share, with their rider, the most important quality of all: a confidence as to the ultimate outcome of the conflict between good and evil.

Happy feast of St. George!


  1. Nice analysis of the St. George and the Dragon paintings!
    I wish I could say the same for your review of "The Magic Ring" in the last STAR issue! :(
    I thought that book was grand (as the people back in the author's day did), but you seem to wave it off.
    The main reason I bought that last issue was to see your review of it. It bummed me out! ;) Sophia, that thing was supposed to be a 'classic'! I'd hoped you would have got more out of it.
    Ah and let live :)

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed the analysis!

    Sorry you were disappointed in the "TMR" review. Check out Jef's review of the book in the latest issue; he has some good things to say.

    There are two things going on in my mind whenever I review a work of fiction. First, I'm a fiction writer myself, so I review every book as if it were mine: in other words, I am prepared to rip it to shreds and start over again (as I've done time and time again with my own stuff). Second, I have a strict notion of what makes for a great--perhaps even a good--work of fiction. Briefly, it must "convict the reader of a crucial truth." (Unpacking that definition would be a subject for a whole post or more.)

    Anyhoo, apologies again for your disappointment. Just know that whenever I write about a work of fiction, I am probably being twice as critical as it deserves!

    1. Oh, I didn't mean to sound as if I thought your method of reviewing things was bad, I just thought you would have thought more highly of it. I thought it was a great book! So did Wagner, McDonald and Tolkien, so in hindsight I guess I just assumed it would have received a more positive reception in STAR. Everyone has there own tastes of course, and I see that you did not take to it, that's fine.
      I think you mentioned something about the translator not providing any help with the allegorical significance of the tale? We may have read different copies of the book then, because I remember reading about the allegorical elements, like Bertha being an allegory of Christianity. Though I agree a more step by step approach to the themes and allegories of the book would have helped! Maybe if the book were published in the Penguins Classic line (for example) it would have alot more of that.

    2. Ah, well, next time I will be less reflexively apologetic then! ;) Yes, it would have helped (me, anyway) to have had footnotes, etc. in this edition. It's a very time-consuming and expensive procedure for a publisher to add them, though, which is why frequently only large and well-established folks like Penguin can do that.

  3. Sophia, I'm afraid, I have to disagree with your equine analogies...Robert Mitchum is NOT fat.

  4. Way to blow my cover!

    Seriously, though, did I say Robert Mitchum was fat? The exact word used was "beefy". Not the same thing. And I seem to remember complimenting his eyes as being far superior to that-guy-who plays-the-vampire-in-Twilight's, many, many posts ago. How DARE you suggest that I don't think he's attractive?

    Really seriously, though (this WILL be hard) he's fairly good looking. Almost as good looking as the horse.