(b. ca. 1400, Sant Celoni, d. 1452, Barcelona)

Saint George Killing the Dragon

Tempera on wood, 141 x 96 cm
Art Institute, Chicago

Martorell worked as a panel painter and illuminator in the service of the city of Barcelona, but he was often given the task of preparing designs for stained glass windows and for sculptures as well. This composition was originally the centre panel of an altarpiece; the two volets, with panels representing the saint's martyrdom, are preserved in the Louvre in Paris.

In the arid, rocky surroundings of the foreground St George is on the point of killing the formidable dragon with a stab of his lance. Only the frightened eyes of the dragon and of the horse convey the dramatic qualities of the scene. Fright would be unworthy of the saint, his face is etherealized and serene. Bones of humans and animals are scattered on the ground. The princess is to be seen praying on the top of a rock. The wavy line of the dragon's tail is practically continued by the crevice in the rock. In the background, in the middle of civilized, idyllic scenery is the royal castle, surrounded by a moat, on whose emerald waters swans are swimming. The crowd gathered on the balconies and bastions of the building watch with excitement to see how the fight will end.

If we turn the pages of the present volume to compare the illustrations we cannot see any other landscape which is so extensive - except, perhaps, in Gentile da Fabriano's picture. True, in this painting too the ground is rising steeply, as it usually is in works created in the International Style. However, it no longer stretches behind the scene like a decorative tapestry: its continuity is broken. A valley separates the background from the foreground; the castle appears to be placed lower than the place where the fight occurs. (All the same, the king and his household look downwards - to preserve his dignity and to render his superiority indisputable.) And whereas of the two spaces depicted in the painting the one further back has preserved the homogeneous and decorative features of landscapes in the International Style, the scene in the foreground is represented in a highly expressive manner, with many gradations of values. The light is reflected in different ways by the grains of sand, by the smooth rock, by the dragon's skin and its belly, by the metal armour and by the precious stones.

The principal axis of the composition is determined by St George's long spear. In addition to this, a single imaginary vertical line connects the eyes of the dragon, of the horse and of the princess. In the form of a letter V the two straight lines flank the bastion of the royal castle.