St. George and the Dragon
St. George and the Dragon, with Scenes from his Life
"St. George and the Dragon," discovered in 1898, is one of the first icons to chronicle a saint's life. Such painted chronicles are called "hagiological" icons and were developed in the early fourteenth century. As with other hagiological icons, there is a central scene surrounded by a series of smaller vignettes depicting scenes from the saint's life. The animated motion of the leaping horse in the central panel reflects the artist's attempt to depart from the rigid symmetry of the surrounding squares. Also noteworthy is the exquisite care with which he treated the detailed scenes, the delicate outlining of the figures, and the attempt to give substance to the figures by modeling their faces with red ochre.
The history of Novgorod, one of the oldest Russian towns, spans eleven centuries. Having escaped the Mongol invasion of the early thirteenth century, it became an important center of learning and painting, and spearheaded the cultural revival of the fourteenth century. During this time it preserved the Byzantine traditions that constituted the core of Russian art. The city, though located on the great Russian plain, was linked via deep rivers and lakes to the Black, Baltic, Caspian, and White Seas. Accordingly, Novgorod became one of the greatest trading centers of eastern Europe, supporting commerce which exceeded that of Genoa or Venice. Constantinople had close ties with the city and there were Novgorodian translators and manuscript transcribers living in Constantinople. Artworks from Byzantium, Scandinavia, the Caucasus and Central Asia were brought to the city.
Novgorodian painting constitutes a particularly celebrated aspect of old Russian art and Novgorodian icons are highly treasured by institutions fortunate enough to include them in their holdings.