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St George and the Dragon

  • Object:

    Relief

  • Place of origin:

    Genoa (made)

  • Date:

    1450-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gagini, Giovanni (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Black slate (pietra nera di promontoria), in relief

  • Museum number:

    7256-1859

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case WS

This relief came from the doorway of a palazzo in Genoa. It is not clear to whom it belonged, as the coats of arms on the shields held by the soldiers on the right and left could be those of the di Negro or Novelli families. The theme of St George killing the dragon was popular for the highly decorated doorways favoured in Genoa.

Decorated door jambs and lintels were a common feature of Genoese architecture. As noted by R. Lightbown, their development was a result of the "…topography of the old city" in which tall houses were built on steep streets, thus leaving the doorway as the most visible area for display of wealth or family identification. (Lightbown, p.412).
Rectangular carved lintels surmounted the doorways of palazzi, and the lintels often contained a scene of St George killing the dragon. Often a square projection with the monogram of Christ would be found above such lintels.

The use of slate was typical in Genoa. It has high tensile strength and a high degree of water and fire resistance. These qualities, and its natural abundance in Liguria (the region of Genoa) made the city's preferred material for roof tiles, chimneys, doorways and floors.

Physical description

St. George and the Dragon, relief in slate (pietra nera di promontoria). In the centre St. George, in right profile, spears the dragon, which appears in the foreground to the right. The Saint is fully armed and his cloak blows out behind him. To right and left are men in armour, carrying maces in their outer hands and holding shields (three fleurs-de-lys, a chief indented). Behind, in a rocky landscape, are seen (left) the king and queen with their court, and, below, a shepherd piping with three sheep, and (right) the princess in prayer. The relief is recessed within a moulded border.

The border of the relief is damaged along the right side at the top, on the right, and in the lower left corner. The head of the Princess is defaced. Abraded locally.

Place of Origin

Genoa (made)

Date

1450-1500 (made)

Artist/maker

Gagini, Giovanni (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Black slate (pietra nera di promontoria), in relief

Dimensions

Height: 62.6 cm, Width: 179.1 cm, Depth: 11 cm, Weight: 594 kg

Object history note

The relief was purchased from an unnamed vendor in Genoa for 24 lire.

Historical significance: This relief shares certain characteristics with one which has remained in situ over the doorway to the Palazzo Doria-Quartara in Genoa, and to the V&A relief 7255-1859 (Pope-Hennessy, 389, cites Maclagan and Longhurst). The same elements are found in each, though the styles and compositions are different. It has been suggested that this is the work of an "inferior artist" in Gaggini's workshop (Pope-Hennessy, citing Maclagan and Longhurst, p.120). Here the figures are out of proportion, with very long arms, small bodies and overly large heads, except for St George, whose head appears overly small. In most reliefs St George is shown on horseback in left profile, approaching from the right as he slays the dragon. Here he is shown in right profile and approaches from the left.

As in the other reliefs, a princess kneels in the background, though in this case her face has been damaged. The background consists of rocky outcroppings with some vegetation. Most reliefs show a king with courtiers sitting around him, though in this case all of the men stand to observe the scene. Another common motif is a bagpiper with sheep below him, yet here three sheep appear on the ledge above a bagpiper.

Warriors holding shields flank St George in many of the reliefs. Many of the shields have been effaced, perhaps due to the 1797 revolt in which noble homes were vandalized (Grosso, 161). In this relief the coat of arms of the family have been retained, Pope-Hennessy identified them as those of either the di Negro (argent, three fleurs-de-lys, 2, 1, azure: a chief indented gules) or the Novelli (azure, three fleurs-de-lys, 2, 1, argent: a chief indented argent) family (Pope-Hennessy, 390, who mistakenly gave chief indented gules for both). The Novelli family originally came from Lombardy in about 1200, and were subsumed into the di Negro family (Scorza, p.169). The di Negro family were members of the ruling class of Genoa, and numbered senators and condottiere (military leaders) among their ranks. The earliest documented reference to their name dates to 1274 There were two branches of the family in Genoa; one lived in the area of San Lorenzo, and the other in the area of the Banchi (DBI, vol. 40, p.126).

The area above St George's head also seems to indicate that a monogram of Christ (as noted above, typical of such reliefs) was removed due to damage to the framing elements.

Hasluck noted that the subject of St George for the reliefs seems to have its origins in the seal of the Bank of St George, the main bank of Genoa. He suggested that the reliefs might function as a type of triumphal monument for successful admirals, who were given the banner of St George before beginning their campaigns. (Hasluck, 1909-10, 171). Grosso, following a similar notion, commented that the flag of St George was carried on vessels and that victorious captains were awarded the honour of placing friezes with images of St George above the doors to their homes (Grosso, p.161). However, neither author cited any documentary evidence for their theories.

Historical context note

Decorated door jambs and lintels were a common feature of Genoese architecture. As noted by R. Lightbown, their development was a result of the "…topography of the old city" in which tall houses were built on steep streets, thus leaving the doorway as the most visible area for display of wealth or family identification. (Lightbown, p.412).
Rectangular carved lintels surmounted the doorways of palazzi, and the lintels often contained a scene of St George killing the dragon. Often a square projection with the monogram of Christ would be found above such lintels.

The use of slate was typical in Genoa. It has high tensile strength and a high degree of water and fire resistance. These qualities, and its natural abundance in Liguria (the region of Genoa) made the city's preferred material for roof tiles, chimneys, doorways and floors.

Giovanni Gaggini or his workshop may have carved this relief based on similarities with a relief over the doorway of Palazzo Quartara in Genoa (Pope-Hennessy, 389). There is some confusion surrounding that artist resulting from interpretations of documents from Genoa in the 1460s. Kruft, based on Cervetto, suggested that there were two men named Giovanni Gaggini, (alternatively spelled "Gagini") originally a Lombard family, working in Genoa during the same time. This was based on documents transcribed by Cervetto which seemingly referred to two sculptors, one named Giovanni Gaggini d'Andrea da Campione, who had a workshop in Genoa, and one called Giovanni Gaggini the son of Magister Beltrame, who came from Bissone (Cervetto, 137 and Kruft, 15). Bissone and Campione (today Campione d'Italia) are two towns very close to each other on the shore of Lake Lugano (in today's Switzerland). Until the 15th century, Bissone was under the rule of the Dukes of Milan, while Campione has remained Italian.

Algeri suggested in 1977 that further research might reveal that Giovanni Gaggini da Campione and Giovanni Gaggini da Bissone were the same person, as a 1475 document published by both Alizeri and Cervetto made reference to a Giovanni da Beltrame from Campione who worked with Michele d'Aria for the Spinola family (doorway 222-1879 was a Spinola commission). She also noted that documents published by Cervetto regarding the location of the Gaggini shops locate them in the same area of Genoa and might provide further evidence for believing they are the same person. However, it does not appear that any further research on this branch of the Gaggini family has been done, and therefore identification remains speculative.

Descriptive line

St. George and the Dragon, relief in slate (pietra nera di promontorio), in the style of Giovanni Gagini, Italy (Genoa), second half of 15th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cervetto, L. A. I Gaggini da Bissone. Loro Opere in Genova e Altrove, Milan, 1903.
Hasluck, F. W., "The Latin monuments of Chios," The Annual of the British School of Athens, xvi, 1909-10, p. 171.
Hasluck, F. W., "Genoese lintel-reliefs in Chios," Burlington Magazine, xviii, 1910-11, p.329-330 not reproduced.
Maclagan, E. And Longhurst, M., Catalogue of Italian Sculpture, London, 1932, p. 120
Lightbown, R. "Three Genoese Doorways," Burlington Magazine, ciii, 1961, pp.412-17.
Pope-Hennessy, John. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Volume I: Text. Eighth to Fifteenth Century. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1964, p. 390
Kruft, Hanno-Walter,Portali Genovesi del Rinascimento, Florence, 1971
Kruft, Hanno-Walter, "Alcuni Portali Genovesi del Rinascimento fuori Genova," Antichità Viva, xvii/6 Nov./Dec 1978, 31-35.
Algeri, Giuliana, "La scultura a Genova tra il 1450 e il 1470: Leonardo Riccomano, Giovanni Gagini, Michele d'Aria," Studi di Storia delle Arti,Università di Genova, 1977, pp. 65-78.
Profumo, Luciana Müller, Le pietre parlanti: L'ornamento nell'architettura genovese 1450-1600, Genova, 1993.
Grosso, O., Il San Giorgio dei Genovesi, Genoa, 1914.
Scorza, A. Le famiglie nobili Genovesi, Genoa, 1924.
Inventory of Art Objects Acquired in the Year 1859. In: Inventory of the Objects in the Art Division of the Museum at South Kensington, Arranged According to the Dates of their Acquisition. Vol I. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., 1868, p. 40

Labels and date

7256-1859
St George and the Dragon
Slate (pietra nera di promontorio)
Style of Giovanni Gaggini (active after 1449; d.1517)
Genoese; second half of the 15th century
The relief (like 7255-1861) relates to the relief by Giovanni Gaggini on the Palazzo Quartara at Genoa. The arms are those of Di Negro or Novelli. [2004]

Materials

Slate

Techniques

Relief

Subjects depicted

Kings; Bagpipes; Saints; Prayer; Queens; Swords; Soldiers; Armour; Sheep; Horses; Chivalry; Shepherds; Spears; Princesses; Dragons; Fleur-de-lys; Rocks; Shields; Maces

Categories

Sculpture; Religion; Christianity

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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