Temple Gallery

Established 1959

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

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YY012. Saint George and the Dragon

Ionian Islands School, probably Corfu
17th century
Panel: 30 cm x 27 cm, with frame: 50.5 x 46 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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After the Ottoman conquest of Crete in 1646 the Ionian Islands were inundated by painters who developed a westernising style of iconography (known as the Ionian Islands School). Corfu began to develop an artistic tradition around the early 16th century. At that time in Crete, which was also a Venetian possession, flourished an important school of painting known as the Cretan School. When Crete fell to the Turks a large number of families migrated to Corfu bringing with them many icons. So Corfu soon grew into an important centre of cultural activity. One can find today a number icons painted by Michael Damaskinos (the great iconographer of the Cretan School), Emmanuel Lambardos, George Kotzias, Angelos the Cretan, Jeremiah Palladas (Fig. a) and George Kortezas in many churches on the island and in the Byzantine Museum of Corfu.

Fig. a. St George and the Dragon. Ieremias Palladas. First half of 17th c. Canneplopoulos Museum, Athens

Our icon portrays the legend of St. George who saved Elisaba, the daughter of the pagan king of Selena in Libya. She had been chosen by lot as the ransom demanded by the dragon who was blocking the town’s water supply. St. George is mounted on a powerful white horse shown rearing above the dragon. He is wearing a short green tunic and a flowing red cape along with a gold cuirass with red designs and matching gambadoes. The saint, with a steadfast movement, thrusts his spear through the mouth of the recumbent quadruped dragon. The latter’s green scales are complemented by the fiery colour of his bat-like wings and the red flame that emits from his mouth. The diminutive figure behind the horse represents the rescued princess: crowned and dressed a red mantle, she is fleeing the scene in fear. A city is portrayed in grisaille at the far left. The landscape is mountainous while the background is rendered in gold and at the upper right corner the blessing hand of God emerges from the clouds. See figs. a. and b. for closely related icons.

Iconographically the icon largely adheres to the Late Byzantine tradition as crystallised on Crete by the painter Angelos Akotantos,[1] with some stylistic vaiations. In Byzantine art the horse is represented in profile, and walking, here the horse is depicted in a vigorous, contrapostal posture, one which is encountered in works influenced by the Mannerism of Western art. St. George is one of the most popular saints in Greece. It is therefore difficult to determine whether this panel was produced for private display on the household shrine or for the proskynetarion in the Church.

Fig. b. St George and the Dragon, Ionian Islands, 17th century Temple Gallery, Summer 2006, No. 42. Private collection, Romania.

1. Μ. Βασιλάκη, ‘Εικόνα του ζωγράφου Άγγελου με τον άγιο Γεώργιο Καβαλάρη Δρακοντοκτόνο: ένα νέο απόκτημα του Μουσείου Μπενάκη’Πεπραγμένα Στ’ Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνεδρίου, τ.Β’, (Χανιά, 1991), 41-49