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HOME : Russian Icons : Archive : Saint George Slaying the Dragon
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Saint George Slaying the Dragon - PF.5937
Origin: Russia
Circa: 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 14" (35.6cm) high
Collection: Russian Icons
Medium: Oil on Wood Panel

Additional Information: Sold

Location: United States
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Russians inherited the tradition of icon painting from Byzantium, where it began as an offshoot of the mosaic and fresco tradition. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the iconoclastic controversy in the Orthodox Church called into question whether religious images were a legitimate practice or sacrilegious idolatry. Although the use of images was in the end permitted, a thorough distinction between profane art intended to depict reality and sacred art designed for spiritual contemplation was established. That difference is one of the reasons that the artistic style of icons can seem so invariant. Certain kinds of balance and harmony became established as reflections of divinity, and as such they invited careful reproduction and subtle refinement rather than striking novelty. Although this philosophy resulted in a comparatively slow evolution of style, icon painting evolved considerably over the centuries. Unlike the pictorial traditions of the west that aspire towards increased realism and naturalism, the essence of Russian icon painting is not about the representation of physical space or appearance. Icons are images intended to aid in contemplative prayer, and in that sense, are more concerned with conveying meditative harmony than with laying out a realistic scene. They were not painted to please the eye of the mind, but to inspire reflection and self- examination.

The legend of St. George and the dragon is one of the most enduring tales of a saint’s life. Today, wholly accepted as a non-factual allegory, the tale speaks of a small town in modern Libya terrorized by a vicious, bloodthirsty dragon. The citizens survived by placating the dragon with sheep; however, the monster’s appetite increased and soon the village resorted to sacrificing its own citizenry. Eventually, it was decided that a virgin princess had to be fed to the great beast. Fortunately for the princess, after the town had abandoned her to this most cruel fate, the hero St. George arrived on horseback and slew the dragon, setting the princess free. Modern scholars regard this legend as a metaphor for the triumph of the church and Christianity over the evils of the world and paganism. This icon is a touching memorial to the patron saint of soldiers. He is depicted at the moment when he is just to deliver the final blow. The painter has captured the collected and calm gaze of the saint as he deliver the village, hinted at by the architecture in the background, from evil. As he holds his spear, St. George gazes up toward the heavens as if this final blow was guided by the hands of God.
- (PF.5937)


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