Art contexts. Ana Diguez, director of the Institut Moll, the research center on flamenco painting, is launching a series of articles dedicated to the world of art. The painting can be downloaded from the Prado Museum website, at this link
taking advantage of the fact that we have recently celebrated the onomastics of St. George, patron saint of wandering knights and booksellers, whom the genius of Cervantes perpetually united in his universal text, I would like to reflect on one of the most spectacular works by Peter Paul Rubens created around the myth of this Roman officer. These are the canvas of Saint George and the dragon that houses the Prado Museum. It is a painting he made during the years that the artist spent in Italy (1600-1608), and from which it never came off. It was after his death, in 1640, when King Philip IV acquired it, and it became part of the royal collections until its transfer to the Museo Real de Pintura del Prado in 1834.
Legend has it that St. George saves a city terrified by a dragon by killing it, just as the animal was about to devour the daughter of the local king. The classic references of history are found in the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, which tradition assumes as the idea of the just man defending the weak. Saint George thus becomes the perfect knight, who does not follow his path looking the other way, does not run away from his destination but confronts it. An ideal, by the way, present in Don Quixote of Cervantes, and that, I do not know if by chance or causality, they meet every April 23rd.
The fact that Rubens kept this canvas more than three meters high among his collections is significant of the special esteem and significance the piece was to have for the artist. Everything is occupied by the rider on his mount, with the sword up ready to give the final thrust to the badly wounded dragon in the foreground, and the twisting of the horse in a corvette. Rubens has left us in suspense of the impending end of the action.
The dynamic sense that the artist achieves with this unfinished moment transcends the plan to involve us emotionally in the scene. Even the stormy clouds on the right affect this dramatic moment. Only the young woman in the background on the left remains static, welcoming the approaching lamb seeking refuge. She and we are on the same plane. Waiting for the knight to set us free, for the action man to finish the job. It is not surprising that Rubens, in a way, was reflected in the figure of St. George. His biography tells us of a cultured, refined man, with a command of several languages, who knew how to move through the European courts at the highest level, and who came to do delicate diplomatic tasks. This was sent by the Duke of Mantua in 1603 to deal with the court of Philip III and later the archduke Isabel Clara-Eugenia and Alberto from the court of Brussels in England first and then in Madrid in 1628, for to arrange the so-called “English affair”, by which the Hispanic monarchy would seek its ally in England and not in France, as later happened.
Rubens, therefore, like St. George, is also a man of action. A vital position that the artist assumes during his stay in Italy. He has just seen the lost fresco of Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari of the Palazzo Vechio in Florence of which he makes a drawing in 1603 (Louvre Museum), Raphael’s version of the same subject in the possession of the Sforzas and which is now also in the museum Parisian, and is imbued with the classical tradition that transcends the entire Italian peninsula.
Rubens devises a Saint George that overflows the scene. It is the representation of the perfect knight, the ideal of the miles christi. The defender of the faith, of the weak, of Justice against all those who attacked the most intrinsic values of seventeenth-century Europe. The internal wars, the Protestant Reformation, the push of the “Turk” in the Mediterranean, lead a man of great training and capacity for observation and intelligence to create a timeless work. A reference for him, and a representative work of the European Baroque as head.