A catalogue of the Russian icons in the British Museum

By Yury Bobrov / Edited by Chris Entwistle

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The Miracle of St George and the Dragon / Black George

Icon; painted; sometimes known as 'The Black George'; St George wearing a red mantle rides a black horse to the left. He holds a spear in his right hand with which he transfixes the dragon beneath him. The scene was depicted against a light yellow (orpiment) background imitating gold leaf.  Inscription: in Church Slavonic above the saint: ??G? [C] G??? [G?] ? (Saint George).  Egg tempera and gesso on wood (linden ?).


© The Trustees of the British Museum

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Department: Britain, Europe and Prehistory

Registration number: 1986,0603.1

Additional IDs
IC 14 (Icon Collection number)

Bibliographic reference
Bobrov 2008 1
Ovchinnikov & Kishilov 1971 16
Cormack 2007 No. 14
Robinson 2008 p. 272
Yamshchikov 1969 pl. 7-8


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Object types
painting (scope note | all objects)
icon (scope note | all objects)

Title (object)
The Miracle of St George and the Dragon
Black George
wood (linden?) (all objects)
gold (scope note | all objects)
gesso (all objects)
painted (scope note | all objects)
gilded (scope note | all objects)
carved (all objects)
Production place
Made in Novgorod Oblast ((Northern)) (all objects)
(Europe,Russia,Novgorod (oblast))
Place (findspot)
Found/Acquired Ilinski Pogost (scope note | all objects)
(Europe,Russia,Arkhangelsk Oblast,Ilinski Pogost)

Icon; painted in egg tempera on (linden?) wood; sometimes known as 'The Black George'; St George wearing a red mantle rides a black horse to the left. He holds a spear in his right hand with which he transfixes the dragon beneath him. The scene was depicted against a light yellow (orpiment) background imitating gold leaf. Inscription in Church Slavonic above the saint: Ο ΑΓΙ(oc) ΓΕΟΡ(г)ИЕ (Saint George).

Inscription Type: inscription
Inscription Script: Cyrillic
Inscription Position: top
Inscription Language: Church Slavonic
Inscription Comment: identifying figure

Height: 77.4 centimetres
Width: 57 centimetres
Depth: 2.8 centimetres

Made from two panels with 'kovcheg'; two inserted battens on the reverse as well as five additional inserts along cracks and the joint between the two panels. The yellow colour of the background has been almost totally removed down to the gesso during the course of earlier restoration. Traces of it survive on the right hand side and in some places on the background. The gesso priming has a regular network of craquelure and in the lower part there is a later insertion of gesso. The original paint layer is slightly abraded and there are the remains of gold leaf on the halo. There is a deep loss of the ground near the saint’s right hand and later in-painting on the saint’s face and on the horse. There are also traces of rather coarse later over-painting and nail holes from the 'oklad' around the borders. The red spear and the outlines of the red 'himation' (also with artificial craquelure) are partly later restorations. The lower edge of the panel is damaged.

Curator's comments
According to one literary source St George (d. c. 303) was a warrior from Cappadocia who was martyred at Lydda (Diospolis) in Palestine during the reign of Diocletian. His name is derived from the Greek word for peasant and from Early Christian times he was invoked as a patron of both the Byzantine army and farmers. His cult was both ancient – from as early as the 5th century – and widespread. His principal feast day is 23 April.

The miracle with a dragon initially appeared in vocal tradition around the 8th century and in the saint’s ‘vitae’ from the 9th century. It tells the story, known in Western Europe through the ‘Golden Legend’, of a dragon who settled in a cave, near the legendary town of Lacia ruled by King Selvios, and whose citizens he terrorized. On one occasion the serpent demanded as a sacrifice the daughter of the king and she was led to a lake to await her fate. She was seen by George to whom she explained her predicament. When the dragon appeared the saint attacked it, pierced it with his lance, and led it captive to the town with the princess’ girdle. Orthodox texts emphasize that George’s victory was achieved through prayer. He told the terrified people not to be afraid, and that if they would believe in Jesus Christ and be baptized, he would rid them of the monster.

There are two main iconographic types based on this story: the so-called ‘concise’ where only George and the dragon are depicted (cat. nos 1 and 2) and the ‘detailed’ with the princess, walls of Lacia and the people witnessing the miracle all shown (cf. cat. nos 51 and 57). The earliest known depictions of the ‘concise’ version are on the frescoes of some Cappadocian churches dating from the 10th and 11th centuries (Walter 2003, 128 for the individual churches). The earliest dated example with George and the princess (cf. cat. nos 51 and 57) is at Pavnisi (1158–64), although Walter lists examples at Adisi, Bočorma and possibly Ikvi which could be dated slightly earlier on stylistic grounds (Walter 2003, 142). The iconography soon spread to Orthodox countries in the Balkans and then more widely to the Caucasus and Rus. His image was brought to the West by the Crusaders and he was adopted by King Edward III as the patron saint of England. The first depiction of the miracle in Russia is preserved on the walls of the church of St George in Staraya Ladoga (c. 1167) near Novgorod (Lazarev 1966, 107–14, 249).

The unusual feature of this icon – the rendering of the horse in black paint – can be paralleled on a few 14th–16th century Novgorod icons such as the ‘Miracle of St George’, a mid-14th-century icon from the Morozov collection and now in the Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow (Bruk and Iovleva 1995, no. 21), ‘St George, Nikita and the Deesis’, a 16th-century icon in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg, (Likhachov, Laurina and Pushkariov 1980, fig. 237) and on some Northern Russian icons, for instance, the ‘Miracle of St George and his Life’ from Ustjuznan and dating from the first half of the 16th century (Rybakov 1995, fig. 214).

On the saint’s ‘vita’ and iconography, see: LCI 6, cols 365–90.

Yamshchikov 1966, pls 6-7
Ovchinnikov and Kishilov 1971, no. 16, pl. 33
Buckton 1987, 85, no. 5
Beshara 8 (1989), 48
Cormack 2007, 82–5, fig. 51 and 116, no. 14.

saint/martyr (scope note | all objects)
equestrian (scope note | all objects)
dragon (all objects)

Associated names
Named in inscription & portrayed St George (biographical details | all objects)

Associated places
Associated with Tretiakov Gallery (all objects)
(Europe,Russia,Moscow,Tretiakov Gallery)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased from Axia Art Islamique et Byzantin (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Мария Васильевна Розанова (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
The icon was discovered in 1959 in a small village (Il'inski Pogost parish) on the river Pinega, a tributary of the Severnaya Dvina which flows into the White Sea at Archangel. When found it was in use as a window shutter. It was subsequently cleaned by the conservator Adolf Ovchinnikov at the I.E. Grabar State Restoration Workshops in Moscow in 1960. The icon was the property of Maria Vasilievna Rozanova, who was married to Andrei Donatovich Siniavski, the Russian dissident who left the Soviet Union for Paris in 1973.

Exhibition History
2015 15 Sep-10 Jan, USA, Norfolk, Chrysler Museum of Art, Byzantium to Russia: The origins and development of Russian icons 1200 to 1900.
2015 30 Apr- 22 Aug, USA, Clinton, Museum of Russian Icons, Byzantium to Russia: The origins and development of Russian Icons 1200 to 1900.
2014-2015 13 Dec-15 Mar, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2014 23 Apr-01 Aug, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'

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