Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Saint George and the Crocodile

Happy Saint George's Day, my friends!  Happy Shakespeare's birthday too, obviously.  How very English we all must feel today, even those of you who aren't English (it's fine, have some crumpets for tea and listen to The Archers, it's pretty much the same thing.  If you want to get the full effect, try doing both of those in a queue.  In the rain.) and so I think it's a nice excuse to look at some pictures of a muscly bloke in armour.  Huzzah!

Fair Saint George (1881) John Gilbert
Most of us will know the story of Saint George, or at least the iconic bit:  A village was having some trouble with a dragon (or crocodile, which seems a little more realistic if less impressive) and so to appease the dragon they fed it sheep.  When the sheep ran out they moved on to maidens of the village.  In some versions of the story the girls drew straws and whoever got the short straw got eaten.  Even the Princess drew a straw and of course hers was the shortest so she was marched out to provide lunch for the fearsome beast...

'No, it's fine, I'll draw a lot.  What's the worst that can happen?'
The above two pictures are by Edward Burne-Jones, always good for a nice series of swoony maidens and shiny-thighed men.  Actually, as I was thinking about Saint George I couldn't believe how I hadn't just said 'But that's just the story of Perseus, isn't it?' because there are so many likenesses.  Burne-Jones's series from the early 1860s lack the polish of his Perseus series of much later, but have the same charm of 'peace amid astonishing events' that he demonstrates in all his work.  The curve of his Princess, like a willow stem, awaiting her fate, is just beautiful.

Saint George and the Dragon Edward Burne-Jones
How lucky for Princess Sabra that along came Saint George and slayed that pesky dragon/crocodile and got himself a Princess into the bargain.

Saint George (1906) Solomon J Solomon
It's unsurprising that most painters concentrate on the crucial moment of princess-saving/dragon-slaying.  I like Solomon's multi-tasking George both scooping and stabbing, and striking a fairly handsome pose while doing it.  That's some shiny armour.  Whoo-hoo for our patron saint!

Saint George George Watts
Nothing says 'hero' like staring off at some unknown object.  I like to think he's looking at 'victory' or 'tomorrow' or something equally as fluffy and metaphoric.  Talking of metaphors, it's roundly agreed that he only slayed a metaphoric crocodile, representing Satan or Sin or somesuch thing that seemed like fun but was terribly bad for you.  Slay that metaphoric crocodile!

The Quest of Saint George Frank Salisbury
Having slayed that dragon-o-dile and scooped up his princess, George galloped back to the village and everybody danced.  Most artists tend to leave the story as soon as the spear goes into the dragon, but oddly the Pre-Raphaelites embraced the more romantic aspects of the story.  Rossetti did two versions of the marriage of George to Princess Sabra...

The Wedding of St George and Princess Sabra (1857)
Saint George and Princess Sabra (1862)
I especially love the 1862 picture and I'm guessing the couple are based on William and Jane Morris.  I love the fact that Princess Sabra is having a little snuggle up because nothing impresses women like slaying the dreaded dragon-o-dile.

Saint George and the Dragon: The Return Edward Burne-Jones
Burne-Jones also shows the big party after the dragon-slaying, which looks like jolly fun.  There is a definite emphasis on the aftermath of his actions, the romance, the marriage.  This neatly sits within the notion of 'saving the maiden', the Pre-Raphaelite sense of medieval courtly love. The fact that both Rossetti and Burne-Jones used the subject of Saint George at a fairly romantic time of their life is no coincidence even if Rossetti's other rendition of it was during the sad final year of his marriage.  In that work I feel a hint of transference onto the Morrises, living vicariously in their 'happiness', foreshadowing his moving in on their marriage a few years later.

Finding of the Infant Saint George (1892) Charles March Gere
I have had a look, but I can't find any mention of St George being found (much like Moses), although his name is 'Georgios' or 'worker of the land (farmer)' in Greek.  I think this is a beautiful, if random image, possibly linking George with Moses, or even Jesus - holy babies found in very (literally) 'earthy' situations.  If you saw the above image without its title I don't think I'd be able to recognise the subject at all as it is not part of the story we're used to.  It's very sweet though.

Well, off you go, enjoy the day, eat a crumpet, complain about the weather and other things that make you think about England.  I think I am watching Gnomeo and Juliet later because Shakespeare wrote it.  Apparently.  Maybe I'll be saved by a shiny-thighed man...


  1. Happy St George's Day Kirsty.Love the humour in this one [ especially the 'what's the worst that can happen?' - 'Bugger' captions!lol

  2. Thanks Debs, hope you had a nice St George's day!

  3. Thanks for this, loved reading it and looking at the beautiful images. I like the first Rossetti marriage one; he really captures that intense passionate love where you just want to slump on each other and be touching at all times!

  4. I've always enjoyed Rossetti's painting of the princess and the saint since my initial 1970s wallow into the Pre-Raphaelites. I love the color and detail, and I remember one of my books pointing out how the space is crowded with stuff, like the Victorians were stuffing their interiors at the time. But it wasn't until I looked at the image here that I noticed how GOOFY that dead dragon looks, with his lolling tongue and bugging eyes! I think I would have expected a somewhat more lyrical-looking dead dragon from Rossetti...or one with a nice, long neck...but not this guy!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx