Sunday, June 21, 2015

RELIGIOUS ART - 17th Century Carvings from the Bible! Saint George

A German parcel-gilt silver equestrian figure of St. George, most probably Melchior Gelb I, Augsburg, circa 1640
the detachable figure on a rearing horse and domed base chased to simulate a rocky forest floor, corrugated rim, marked on base
23cm., 9in. high overall, 16cm., 6 1/4 in. long
734gr., 23oz. 11dwt.

About this work. The figure is intently studying the ground for his prey, where a separate sculpture of the dragon, enemy of the Christian knight, could be imagined. An Augsburg ewer of 1654 in the form of an equestrian group, with the horse similarly jumping, not over a dragon but over a fallen Turkish warrior, was formerly in the collection of the Princes Esterházy von Galantha. It represents László Esterházy who died fighting the Turks at the battle of Nagyvezekény in 1652.2

Saint George (circa 275/281 – 23 April 303 AD) was a soldier in the Roman army who later became venerated as a Christian martyr. His parents were Christians of Greek background; his father Gerontius was a Roman army official from Cappadocia and his mother Polychronia was from Lydda, Syria Palaestina. Saint George became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian, who ordered his death for failing to recant his Christian faith.


In the fully developed Western version of the Saint George Legend, a dragon, or crocodile, makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of "Silene" (perhaps modern Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda in Palistine, depending on the source). Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon at first a sheep, and if no sheep can be found, then a maiden is the best substitute for one. The victim is chosen by drawing lots. One day, this happens to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life to be spared, but to no avail. She is offered to the dragon, but then Saint George appears on his travels. He faces the dragon, protects himself with the sign of the Cross, slays the dragon, and rescues the princess. The citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity. Moraint    

Melchior Gelb (1581-1654) was a precocious talent, co-working in 1605 with his later father-in-law on chased silver panels of the Crucifixion and the Descent from the Cross after the Italian sculptor Guglielmo della Porta (c. 1500-1577). He signed his work as journeyman for Pfelger, long before he became a master of the Guild in 1616.  More