Fond of Dragons

As a child, I was naturally drawn to paintings showing Saint George and the Dragon. The more museums I was taken to, the more I noticed that every painting of the story showed a different kind of dragon, a differently armored Saint and very different scenery.

I can’t remember if I really believed in dragons – but the evidence in the art museums was pretty compelling. In many cases, the artists were showing an adrenaline pumping image of the victorious Saint destroying the beast (and saving the beautiful lady).

Uccello St.George and the Dragon, London - National Gallery

I saw this painting when I was 5 and immediately loved it. I especially liked how the lady is gently gesturing while this scene of violence takes place in front of her. Its so spectacularly beautiful in every way – what child wouldn’t love it?

I usually felt sorry for the dragon. Sometimes the dragon was pretty big but a bit goofy like the one above. If you didn’t know better you’d think that this pretty lady is out walking her dragon and along comes this knight on a white horse and he stabs it in the nose. The dragon looks so unhappy, like his feelings are hurt.

St George and the Dragon by Rubens, Prado

This is by Rubens. Here is an example of a very dramatic, full of action painting of St. George killing the dragon. The dragon here is hissing and coiled and you have to feel bad for it – its mouth is stuck with broken pointy things and the Saint is about to give a deadly blow. Even the horse looks like he’s thrilled to be pounding this dragon to death.

In other paintings the dragon was smaller and could look like a grumpy snake all coiled and hissing, or some weird conglomerate animal like the one in the Rubens painting – it even has a human shaped hand.

Best of all are the depictions where the dragon is really small and looks like a weird little beastie that the Saint overpowered by squashing it with his foot.

St. George and the Dragon, the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Saint George looks very gentle here while he is standing on top of the little dragon that looks a lot like a beloved dog.

In 1962 a song by Peter Paul and Mary came out called Puff the Magic Dragon. Puff instantly became part of popular culture, and I remember singing it in grade school with our scary music teacher leading us along.

Puff the Magic Dragon 1966

But I gotta say, that even though I liked the song and sang it a lot, the way they showed Puff like a cartoon left me wanting – why didn’t they show Puff like a real dragon – like the ones in the museums that were so much more dragonee?

St_George English manuscript

“Everybody must have a fantasy.”
Andy Warhol

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