RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)
Landscape with Saint George and the Dragonc. 1630
Oil on canvas, 152,4 x 226,7 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor
Saint George and the Dragon symbolises the close relationship established between Rubens and the court of Charles I. The subject honours the patron saint of England and of the Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III in 1348. The features of Saint George are traditionally stated to be those of Charles I, while the figure of the Empress Cleodelinde is, according to the same tradition, intended to be Queen Henrietta Maria. The verdant landscape is also a form of flattery in so far as it is inspired by the English countryside. Indeed, the background was described by Croft-Murray as 'probably Rubens's single essay in English landscape.' Some of the buildings are identifiable, although their contiguity is purely imaginary. On the left of the composition, for example, is the square church tower of St Mary Overy (now Southwark Cathedral) and to the right of this possibly the Banqueting House with Westminster Abbey before Hawksmoor's towers were added. Further down river on the right of the composition is an interpretation of Lambeth Palace.
The canvas was extended by the artist, evidently sometime between 1630 and 1635. These additions betoken extensive rethinking of the design. The original concept was to have been contained within the central section and is recorded in a drawing in Stockholm (National Museum). This was preceded by a study in Berlin of motifs occurring in the right half of the composition. These drawings show that the horseman on the right was at first balanced on the left by a woman standing with a child, forms which can still be discerned between the trunks of the two trees and which are even more obvious by X-ray. They were omitted, however, when the composition was enlarged, possibly because they did not constitute a sufficiently strong counterpoint. The other elements of the composition, especially on the right, were merely rearranged on a broader scale. It is conceivable that some iconographical refinements were also made in order to sharpen the allegorical meaning. What remains of this central part is of good quality, particularly the flickering evening light and damp atmosphere so characteristic of the Thames Valley, and can be assigned to Rubens himself. The additions, however, are less adroitly handled and may have been left to studio assistants. The initial composition perhaps relates to the engraving of the same subject by Lucas van Leyden. The works of Pordenone, Titian, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Veronese and the Carracci family all inspired the artist in carrying out this political allegory which, in the context of the reign of Charles I, clearly has religious connotations with particular reference to Saint George.