The Legend of St. George Saving A Youth from Captivity and Its Depiction in Art

The Legend of St. George Saving A Youth from Captivity and Its Depiction in Art

By Piotr Grotowski

Series Byzantina. I (2003)

Introduction: Few saints can boast the rich hagiography and variety of artistic depiction of St. George, an officer in the Roman Army, who was martyred during Diocletian’s persecutions. Eusebius of Cesarea did not mention him in his History of the Church nor in On Palestinian Martyrs. However, as early as the year 323 an inscription was placed in Saccaea (Shaqqa) in Hauran which mentioned George among other saints, while the fragments of the oldest redaction of his Life, dating from the fifth century, survive in the form of a palimpsest. As a soldier George appears in the Life of Saint Theodore of Sykeon composed in the seventh century. But most important to his iconography was the much later writing of his Miracula.

Already in pre-Iconoclast representations the saint appears not only in patrician attire, but also as a warrior in armour with spear and shield. However, he has only been depicted on horseback since the 10th century. Apart from cycles of his life, where emphasis is often placed on the motif of martyrdom, artists also began to show events from the Miracula which were little connected with the saint’s biography. The most popular legend—of George fighting against the dragon and saving the sacrificial princess—acquired a new meaning, becoming both historical and symbolic representation. One should also classify in the same category of images a group of his equestrian representations, showing George’s posthumous miracle of rescue of a youth imprisoned by infidels, a miracle known in several versions.

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