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
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!