John Mcewen comments on Saint George and the Dragon
RAphael (Santi) was born in Urbino, son of Giovanni Santi, a court painter to Frederico da Montelfeltro, Duke of Urbino. Urbino, under Duke Frederico, became a centre of humanist scholarship and artistic excellence. Raphael was familiar with this world when orphaned at 11. he entered the workshop of the Umbrian master pietro perugino and is referred to as a master himself by 1500, the earliest mention of him, witness to his renown as a prodigy. With Leonardo and Michelangelo, he formed the artistic trium- virate of the high Renaissance, a stylistic period that barely survived his premature and much lamented death.
This portable painting on wood was commissioned by Duke Frederico’s successor and Raphael’s patron, Guidobaldo da Montelfeltro, as a gift for the emissary, Sir Gilbert Talbot, to present to henry VII of england, who had made Guidobaldo a member of the english Order of the Garter. St George is the order’s patron saint. Raphael displayed the garter on the saint’s leg. It is identifiable by ‘HONI’, first word of its motto ( Honi soit qui mal y pense— Disgraced be he who thinks ill of it). Like his father, Guidobaldo was a condottiero or warlord. henry’s gift was to salute the Duke’s cultural and military status rather than to thank him for a specific favour.
The picture was sold during the Commonwealth in one of the sales of the Royal Collection. Catherine the Great subsequently bought it and, until its sale by the Soviets to the American collector Andrew Mellon in 1931, it was one of the most revered pictures in the Imperial hermitage Collection.