(For a larger view of Raphael's St. George defeating the dragon, click here or on the image. The image was obtained from CGFA, formerly, Carol Jackson Presents and is used according to the permission contained in her FAQ.))
For additional works by Raphael see Christus Rex. They have a massive collection of religious art.
- "Martyr, patron of England, suffered at or near Lydda, also known as
- Diospolis, in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine.
- According to the very careful investigation of the whole question
- ...in the light of modern sources of information, the above statement
- sums up all that can safely be affirmed about St. George, despite his
- early [following] and preeminent renown both in East and West."
- Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on St. George. See also, St. George at the
- Catholic Online Saints index.
The story depicted here is really legend, but a very popular legend. The good knight, St. George, while on the Crusades saves the pagan princess, who has been given as a sacrifice to appease the dragon. George risks all in the face of this ferocious beast to save her and the people of her land. In response the people all become Christian. George became patron of soldiers, and of England, because he is said to have appeared in a vision to troops before the defeat of the Saracens in 1089. E.Hallam, Saints, p. 89. He is also said to have appeared to Richard I, of England. See also, St. George of England.
Although the painting does not represent history, it makes a great deal of sense as a parable of good overcoming evil. This evil can be seen as both external and internal. Our world is a battleground, and this is depicted by the setting. It is a pastoral landscape, not celestial, or beastly. The area seems appealing, rather than awful, as one might expect if the evil is in control. Why? Normal life, and even the earth itself is a mix between what is good and beautiful and what is evil. God created the land good, but this evil has come to poison it, and the danger may not be easily seen.
Rev. 12:7-9: "And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world - he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him." NRSV, NAB. CCC 414.
This great battle has been depicted by Giordano. See below.
The Dragon looks very realistic, like a muscular, fast moving animal with wings. He is obviously dangerous. The coiled tail looks like the "ancient serpent" mentioned above, and thus the serpent in the Garden of Eden. He represents the devil, earthly evil and our own inner evil.
The princess could be seen to represent many things. She is pure, and beautiful, so she would represent what is good and holy in us. However, her hands tell us what she is doing and thus who she is. She is praying, and so represents prayer which is conversation with God. She is faith, because you would not talk to someone you did not think existed. She is hope, because you would not ask for help if you had no hope of help. Her presence is essential. The knight may be brave, but he cannot succeed on his own. Courage, skill, and strength are not enough. But with prayer and faith, we have hope of God's help, which brings final victory.
It would be easy to just say that we have here someone who has been given heroic grace to enable him to have the courage to fight and win. It is far better to see George as every-man, or every-christian. All people are beset by troubles in life, and must "do battle" with them, even daily. It seems more intense if a Christian is trying to take faith seriously. Then opposition comes from within and without.
1. Some will oppose your ethical beliefs. Others may ridicule our manner of life, and take advantage of someone who is trusting and forgiving.
2. Circumstances can seem to conspire to cause misfortune and adversity. Suddenly the plight of Job is understandable as the devil is given permission to trouble and test God's servant. See Blake's Satan putting boils on Job.
Job 1:9-12 "Then Satan answered the LORD, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.' The LORD said to Satan, 'Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!' So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD." NRSV.
3. Even when the external arena is peaceful, the inner person can be in turmoil. Perhaps the princess could represent a loving spouse and the dragon sexual temptation, or she might symbolize who you could become, while the dragon is the evil you do in spite of your desire to do good. Romans 7:15 "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." The very same faith and prayer that St. George needed to succeed is needed by us as well.
In the painting, George is a knight in armor. This could just be an effort to place him in a period understandable by the artist and his audience, or to fit the legend. However I think there is more.
Eph. 6:10-18. "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication." NRSV. NAB.
Just as Michael defeated the Evil One and drove him from heaven, we have the promise that the Evil One is already defeated here on earth and will be driven off. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Rev. 21:1. The only battle whose outcome is not yet decided is within each individual, and no one need be lost, for the Devil is defeated by the Blood of the Lamb, the Messiah. Cf. Rev. 12:10-11.
See The Fall of the Angels in the Catholic Catechism, sec. 550 on Satan's defeat, and sec. 671 on the continuing conflict. Also "deliver us from evil".
(This image is by Giordano and can be found at CGFA, formerly, Carol Jackson Presents. It is used according to the terms set out in her FAQ.)
I am not an art critic or artist. I just invite others to think about the message presented by the work of art and then in meditation reflect on its application in your life. In addition, use your imagination. Put yourself in the position of one of the people depicted and feel what they feel. A painting may have tremendous spiritual meaning for you whether or not the artist intended it, or the art critics would agree. If you find meaning, work with that meaning thanking God.
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