Saint George and the Dragon by Moreau, Painting Details

This pocket square is based on the renowned painting Saint George and the Dragon, by Gustave Moreau. This scene is very popular in Renaissance painting, and it has been represented by other artists such as Rubens, Tintoretto, and Preti. We love the stories and histories behind these works, so below we set out some of the key details of the painting.

The Myth:

This painting is an artistic representation of the legend of Saint George, who would have lived in modern day Libya in the third century. According to the myth, the region was terrorised by a dragon, which lived in a nearby lake and poisoned the water. The King, in order to prevent the dragon from killing his people, offered him sacrifices of sheep, and unfortunately some of his own people, who were chosen at random by a lottery.

Peace reigned in the region, but the citizens lived with the dark shadow of being chosen to be scarified to the dragon. One fateful day, according to the legend, the King’s own daughter was chosen to be offered to the dragon. The people having seen many of their own loved ones sacrificed, refused the offer of gold and silver from the King, for another citizen to take her place. The Princess therefore had no choice but to accept her fate, dressed as a bride and wearing her royal crown she made her way to the lakeside.

On her way to the lake, she met Saint George on his horse, who at once told her he would kill the dragon and save her life. The princess refused, but the galant Saint George attacked the dragon, slaying him, and saving the princess’ life.

The Composition:

Moreau painted Saint George on his white horse, charging the dragon with a lance. Saint George is dominating the composition, and his horse is at the centre of the piece. They are the main source of brightness in the painting, the dragons and the mountains around being quite muted. Saint George, painted in the brightness with a red cape that looks like an angel’s wing, is triumphing over the evil, represented by the darkness.

Unlike in the painting of Jacopo Tintoretto, the princess is represented in the background, praying, the the castle in the far background. Moreau made her seem almost peaceful, accepting of her fate. The reason we have chosen this painting for a pocket square is because we love the classic themes of good vs evil, brightness vs darkness.

The Painting Style:

The scene of Saint George and the dragon is the subject of many paintings and Moreau decided to interpret it in his own style, which was very much inspired by the artists of the early Renaissance. An interesting fact about this painting is that it is one of the few oils that Moreau fully completed. It took him more than 20 years, he firstly did a first watercolour version around 1869, and started the oil painting around the same year, only finishing it in the late 1880's.

Marcel Proust loved this painting, and wrote that it was "recognisable immediately as not being by an old master, but by this man who, alone, when he painted his dreams, assembled these red draperies, these red vestments set with flowers and jewels...these narrow passes that make up the realm through which passes everything that he paints." (M. Proust, 'Notes sur le monde mystérieux de Gustave Moreau', in Contre Sainte-Beuve) The watercolor version of the painting is owned by a private collector, while the oil version is exposed at the National Gallery, in London.

The Artist: Gustave Moreau

Gustave Moreau was a prominent figure in French Symbolist painting and tended to focus on the illustration of biblical and mythological figures. As a painter, Moreau appealed to the imaginations of some Symbolist writers and artists and he is recognised for his works influenced by the Italian Renaissance and exoticism. These were the result of many journeys to Italy where he copied and took inspiration from artists like Raphael or Botticelli. Moreau, like many other artists at this time, presented his art in exhibitions like the Salon in Paris. They quickly made him famous, while the press and collectors thought there was a certain eccentric nature to his art.

During his lifetime, Moreau produced more than 8,000 paintings, watercolors and drawings, many of which are on display in Paris' Musée national Gustave Moreau. The museum, found in his former workshop, began operation in 1903. It is said André Breton used to "haunt" the museum and regarded Moreau as a precursor of Surrealism.

The pocket square can be viewed here: Saint George & the Dragon by Moreau.