Saint George, a Christian knight, saved a city which was being terrorised by a dragon. Here he charges the beast, who crouches on a grisly collection of bloody bones. The princess, who was to be its next meal, makes a hasty escape on the left.
Although ostensibly a history painting, it is the landscape that is really the subject here. Renowned for large-scale frescoes and altarpieces, Domenichino also painted numerous small landscapes. This may well be one of his earliest, and it conveys the sense of spaciousness which was one of his greatest contributions to landscape painting. He had followed Annibale Carracci to Rome in 1602, and was heavily influenced by him, as well as by Flemish painters working in Rome.
According to The Golden Legend, George was a Christian knight who came to the city of Silene, in Libya, which was being terrorised by a dragon. This beast, having eaten all the available sheep, was being fed children, drawn by lot from both rich and poor. The lot eventually fell on the king’s daughter, who was dressed as a bride and delivered to the place where the dragon lived. When the dragon appeared George attacked but, rather than killing it, he told the princess to tie her belt around its neck and lead it to the city. There he promised the terrified citizens he would kill it if they all converted to Christianity. They hastily agreed, and George struck off the dragon’s head.
Here George is shown mounted on a horse and charging the dragon, who crouches on a grisly collection of bloody bones, while the princess makes a hasty escape on the left. The city in the background must be Silene.
Although ostensibly a history painting, it is the landscape that is really the subject here. Renowned for large-scale frescoes and altarpieces, Domenichino also painted numerous small landscapes. In spite of its relatively small scale, this picture conveys the sense of spaciousness which was one of Domenichino’s greatest contributions to landscape painting. He trained initially with Ludovico Carracci in Bologna and in 1602 followed Ludovico’s cousin, Annibale Carracci, to Rome, contributing to the frescoes in the Farnese Gallery. He was already painting landscapes before 1603, and was hugely influenced by Annibale’s Roman landscapes, with narratives set in expansive, classicising countryside inspired by that on the outskirts of Rome.
Domenichino took from Annibale the careful organisation of space, with rocks or trees in the foreground acting as ‘wings’ to focus the viewer’s attention on the narrative, but he was also influenced by the panoramic landscapes of Flemish painters working in Rome, such as Paul Bril. Some aspects of the picture are unusual for Domenichino, such as the fantastical town in the background (Domenichino more usually included classical architecture).
An alternative attribution to Giovanni Battista Viola has also been suggested. Viola sometimes collaborated with Domenichino and he is thought to have contributed to the execution of the frescoes in the Stanza di Apollo of the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati, near Rome.
If the painting is by Domenichino, its style suggests a relatively early date of around 1610–11, just before his Landscape with Tobias laying hold of the Fish.
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