St George Francesco Fanelli

St George and the Dragon

St George and the Dragon
Francesco Fanelli (active 1608–1661)
Bronze, about 1635

Sir William Holburne’s collection demonstrates his interest in many aspects of Italian Renaissance art, from paintings and majolica to gems and sculptures. In particular, small Italian Renaissance bronze sculptures had been popular with collectors from the 16th century onwards. These pieces probably also held a practical appeal for Sir William Holburne as space was limited at his house in Cavendish Crescent.

At 26.5 centimetres high, this small bronze depicts Saint George about to slay a dragon with his spear. According to The Golden Legend – one of the most influential Medieval texts – the saint saved the daughter of a pagan king by fighting a dragon that was ravaging the area, a story that closely resembles the Classical myth of Perseus and Andromeda. The most common iconography of St George, like that of St James the Greater and St Michael, portrays him as a warrior, wearing protective gear and wielding a weapon, and killing a hybrid, fantastic creature that symbolises evil.

Francesco Fanelli was born in Florence in the late 16th century. He worked in England between 1635 and 1641. The artist received a pension from Charles I and later described himself as “Sculptor to the King”. The sculpture, of which Fanelli produced several versions, is based on a painting by Raphael which was also in the collection of Charles I and is currently kept at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC In this instance, however, the sculpture focusses exclusively on the slaying of the dragon and leaves out other narrative elements, like the princess or the landscape.

St George has been the patron saint of England since the 14th century, but he is also the patron saint of many other nations and regions around the world, from Georgia to Ethiopia. In North-Eastern Spain, for instance, it is traditional to exchange roses and books on the 23rd of April. How will you celebrate St George’s Day at home this year?

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