St George and the Dragon Statues

As the patron saint of England, statues of St George and the Dragon are widespread across the country. St George’s associations with Fortitude, Courage and Patriotism mean his statue is ideal for war memorials, and many of the free-standing statues of St George are indeed memorials to the Boer War and to World War 1. We also find numerous examples of St George as architectural sculpture, either full statues in niches, or in high relief panels.

The subject is one which gives great freedom to the sculptor: St George can be standing on foot, or mounted, slender and aesthetic as befits a saint, or a muscular warrior. What sculptor can resist making a dragon, and the variations here are numerous. The interaction between St George and the Dragon gives scope for further interest – fighting it, stabbing it, treading it underfoot, or with the cut-off head as a trophy.

Equestrian St George and the Dragon, by J.E. Boehm.

We start with equestrian sculptural groups of St George and the Dragon. The one above is a rather nice example by J.E. Boehm, and shows a suitably large and aggressive beast, lizardlike but with a head and neck like a pit cobra, being stabbed by St George’s long spear. Unusually, St George is unclothed, apart from sandals, a short cloak, and a Greek helmet. The example at the top of this page, centre, is by C. L. Hartwell, and is in St John’s Wood, London, just outside St John’s Wood Chapel, London as a WWI memorial; another copy is in Newcastle. Here, St George thrusts his spear directly into the throat of the dragon under his rearing horse. The dragon has a lizardlike body, something crocodilian or perhaps newtlike in the central spine, and large wings. St George wears splendid spiky armour. This has to be one of the most iconic sculptures of St George and the Dragon.

Adrian Jones' St George and the Dragon, Hyde Park.

The second most familar equestrian St George and the Dragon in London is the Cavalry Monument in Hyde Park, by Adrian Jones. Two views are shown above, the first of which, while not the best aspect of the sculptural group, shows well the long, sinuous crocodilian back and coiled tail, and the head of the dragon between the horse’s hind legs. St George sits triumphant over the defeated beast, sword raised high in victory. I took the second picture above to show the folded wing, batlike and cruel.

In an example of small scale sculpture, above left shows a dragon collapsed on is back, again with St George’ s spear down his throat. In the centre, another small version, with a nude St George, rearing horse, and killing the dragon with a sword. And the one on the right has the dragon standing rather upright, tail and neck writhing, with St George using a jousting spear to slay him.

Onslow Ford's St George and the Dragon in Manchester.

Surely the best small St George and the Dragon statue is that surmounting the Queen Victoria Memorial in Manchester. Two views are above. That to the left shows the splendid silhouette the group makes from various different aspects. We see the lizardlike body of the dragon, one foot raised on the left, and on the right, the gaping toothy jaws. St George is not well shown here as he faces directly away from us, with the horse’s head forming the apex of the composition. The right hand view is from 150 degrees around the other side, so we can see St George – who has lost his spear or sword – on his rearing horse. Onslow Ford was the sculptor.

St George and the Dragon in high relief.

Here are a couple of examples in relief. Above left, a panel with the dragon looking exceedingly snakelike in its coiled body and tail, though it does in fact have legs; this version would seem to take some inspiration from a Chinese dragon rather than a more western origin. As well, for the first time on this page we see St George with a shield, with the St George’s Cross of course. Shields often interfere with the composition of equestrian groups, which is why our other examples above did not feature them; we shall see more below. Above right, we have a more conventional St George in relief, on the by now familiar rearing horse, plunging his jousting spear into the dragon’s mouth, and the dragon of a rather medieval type, with just two legs, but prominent wings.

On to St George on foot. A variety of war memorials are scattered round the country, of which examples are above. On the left, the splendid St George by H. C. Fehr, part of the Leeds War Memorial. Here St George actually stands on the defeated dragon, which is of the saurian type. Next, two versions of St George and the Dragon by George Frampton, with the dragon collapsed, wings partially unfolded and limp in defeat, head sprawled over the edge of the statue base, and St George in full armour, with a nicely shaped shield with cross. These two are at Northampton and Radley College. And to the right, a relief example in London, on Borough High Street’s WW1 Memorial by P. Lindsay Clark. A finely posed St George with sword and shield stands above the serpentlike dragon; his wings are lightly sketched in low relief.

St George as architectural sculpture.

Some more examples, more architectural in nature. A nice medievalised example above left, in a niche, with a rather small dragon and a statically posed St George with his cross on his tunic; the dragon has wound his tail around St George’s leg. In the centre, in honey-coloured stone, is a St George and the Dragon on the frontage of the Guildhall, Norhampton. St George with crossed shield, and sword swung round behind his shoulder, stands above the uptuned head of the dragon, minimised in volume to fit the narrow space. To the right, another small dragon, squeezed between St George’s legs, including wings, is being stabbed in the usual way. St George wears chain mail and some attached plate, in a rather unusual combination, and again has his cross on his breast. These examples show the convention that for standing figures of St George, in order to avoid the composition being overwhelmed by a suitably large dragon, it is acceptable to have a rather undersized dragon, or just part of a larger one.

Above left, a particularly tight composition, St George in plate mail, with elegant covers over the joints, with the dragon’s body and tail looped round St George’s feet, and wings stretched upwards to form a cloaklike backing to the figure. Next, a rather Roman-like St George, standing above the corpse of the dragon – crocodilian type with fine scales – while he holds the spear on which the dragon is transfixed. St George is accompanied by two female figures here, and this is one of the groups of the Gibson Hall in Bishopsgate, London. The third example above is some corbel containing a St George in rather fancy armour with a rather slender sword, and an extraordinarily small griffinlike dragon underneath – to vanquish such a beast would hardly be the stuff of heroism.

Variations on the theme. Above left, the top of the Westminst College Column in the open space to the west of Westminster Abbey, sculpted by J. R. Clayton. The summit St George is about to strike the dragon – who has lost his head, alas, but unusually wears a toga rather than armour, and is bare-headed. He carries a shield across his breast, on which, damaged as it is, the lower arm of the cross can be seen. Next, a memorial tablet in a Canterbury church, with high relief of St George pushing the dragon down and climbing atop it as he thrusts downward; his shield with cross is on his back. This rather pyramidal composition is a change from the usual vertical one. Third along, is the well known terra cotta St George and the Dragon on John William Waterhouse’s Law Courts in Birmingham – the sculptor was Harry Bates. The composition is horizontal, with a dramatic central portion showing the moment when St George, his head close to that of the great beast, thrusts his sword between its teeth, all surrounded by the wings of the dying beast. And to the right, a scene from later in the legend, with the dragon in a collapsed heap, on top of which St George stands, holding the rescued maiden on one shoulder, his other hand poking his sword at the defunct creature.

Angelic St George an the dragon sculpture.

We should note that rather less frequently, we see statues of St George not as a warrior but as a saint, winged and angelic. Above left is an example from near Victoria Station, set into a wall by the Marquis of Westminster Fountain, showing a rather soft-faced St George, with upper plate armour, and plate mail boots, but a tunic in between, and with long wings sweeping down to ankle height. The dragon, a small creature of the two legs and two wings type, has a rather ducklike muzzle. To the right, a high relief example in a gable. St George, with an almost feminine face belied by the size of the muscle in his arm, is about to drive his sword into the mouth of a powerful dragon with batlike wings, heavy claws, and a long, knotted tail. The shield with cross of St George is there, but the angelic figure is otherwise clothed in robes only, and has wings and a halo.

Gilbert Bayes' St George and the Dragon sculpture, part of the frieze on the Saville Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue.

Here is a different idea. In this sculptural frieze, St George, kneeling and head bowed, is in front of a maiden queen walking by a horse and leading the dragon on a leash – rather a lizardlike beast, with muscular arms and chest and a long curled up pythonesque tail. It may be that the partially obscured lump behind St George’s hand is a dragon’s head, representing the extinction of the beast behind a little later, which would be a shame. This ensemble is part of the long frieze by Gilbert Bayes on the Saville Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, London.

Statues of St George without a dragon.

Finally, we should note that of course St George does not always have to have his dragon. Above left, a Gothic St George leaning on his crossed shield, slender and ascetic, with halo. Next, another haloed St George holding his sword cross upward, this being by Henry Poole, in St Paul’s Cathedral. Then an Alfred Drury example, made for the war memorial in Clifton College, Bristol, with long sword, armour and shield. And a terra cotta example, standing in a niche with shield in front of him, and without a sword.

Figure holding a small St George and the Dragon on top of a pot (click to see rest).

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