St George's Day and the Dragon at the National Gallery, London

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St George's Day and the Dragon at the National Gallery, London
Paolo Uccello, Saint George and the Dragon, about 1470 © The National Gallery, London.

LONDON.-The National Gallery painting of St George and the Dragon by the Italian painter Paolo Uccello (c.1460) will draw crowds of art lovers eager to celebrate St George’s day on 23rd April. This national treasure, a highlight of guided tours, is one of the most popular paintings in the Gallery and anyone can see it for free. It is also one of the most looked at pictures on the website and the focus of lessons in schools across the country using the teacher’s pack available.

The picture refers to the story of St George from The Golden Legend, a popular collection of Saints’ lives written in the 13th century. It shows 2 episodes of the story. On the right is the first episode where the saint with his lance defeats a plague-bearing dragon that had been terrorising a city. In the sky a storm is gathering. The eye of the storm lines up with Saint George’s lance, suggesting that divine intervention has helped him to victory. In the second episode on the left, the rescued princess brings the dragon to heal, using her blue belt as a leash.

According to the legend, a dragon lived on the outskirts of a city called Silene in Libya. Citizens appeased the dragon by feeding him 2 sheep everyday. When the supply of sheep began to run out, they fed him one sheep and one person, selected by drawing lots. One day the lot fell on the king’s daughter. George, a military tribune, passed where the dragon lived at the time the princess was awaiting her fate. He wounded the dragon, saved the princess, and they went back to the city with the dragon tied around the neck with the princess’s belt. George then killed the dragon in front of the citizens. It is a familiar story where good triumphs over evil.

St George and the Dragon by Uccello is just one of over 2500 paintings in the National Gallery's Permanent Collection open to the public free of charge.

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