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Entering the intimate and quiet space of the room on the ground floor, we are immediately drawn to nine canvasses placed along the walls. They use to be upstairs but they were moved downstairs later on, namely round the middle of 1500, and they were fitted into the existing space. The canvasses were made by Carpaccio and his art school apprentices between 1501 and 1507. They are dedicated to the three patron saints of the ‘Scuola’. Entering the room we can spot on the left two canvasses dedicated to St George, where us on the right we can admire ‘St Augustine’ s Vision’ as well as ‘St Gerome Welcoming a Lion into His Monastery’.
St George’s story, derived from the Golden Legend by Jacobus da Varagine, is divided into two main parts. In the first one, which is full of allegorical elements, St George fights against the dragon, symbolizing both lust and evil, and manages to pierce through the beast with his spear. In the second one St George leads the beast into town and finishes it off with his sword.
St George luckily ends up in the Libyan city of Selem which is being haunted by a monstrous dragon who demands a human prey everyday till the king’s daughter happens to be chosen. St George’s story is particularly suitable for Carpaccio, who is a nostalgic ‘cantor’ of the Middle Ages both strong and gentle as well as epic and delicate. Here we find memories of tournaments and jousting, recollections of those far gone knightly rules typical of the Arthurian Legends still fashionable in Venice at the end of the XV century. In timeless surroundings St George rides a majestic battle steed and charges the dragon running through it with his spear. The dry landscape is strewn with macabre human remains and maimed corpses. It is crowded with reptiles and lizards looking for bones to strip off of their flesh. In the backdrop on the left we can spot some city buildings while, on the right, a pagan princess, actually dressed like a Virgin Mary, wearing a waistband symbolising chastity as well as a crown which looks like a halo, prays for the victory of the dashing Christian hero who must have impressed her, as we can see in the following scene, where she is standing amidst her parents and some courtiers and witnessing with adoring eyes the deathblow St George is giving to the beast which looks like a huge lizard being dragged by a leash, which actually is the princess’s waistband. In the background St George is charming black horse is courting a white mare. Is the latter a hint to a possible future affair between the princess and the hero who saved her? Maybe, we do not know. Anyway a straight-as-an-arrow St George will be leaving soon after, having even baptised all the inhabitants, who in recognition convert to Christianity among drum rolls and trumpet sounds, as we can see in the third and last scene on the left of the altar. The strongly chivalrous ambience could be explained with the fact that the members of the confraternity, mostly artisans, might have been helped with the financing of the artwork by the aristocratic Knights of St John, whose church was nearby. While the emphasis on the downfall of the dragon, a metaphor for the defeat of the Turks whose banners pictured dragons, could be explained with a hint to the huge victory on the Turks by a mixed Venetian and Papal fleet near Santa Maura which triggered a period of peace and prosperous commerce. It happened in 1502, the very year in which the ‘Scuola’ started to be decorated.