Description & Technical information

The present panel depicting Saint George and the Dragon is by Jorge Inglés, a painter and illuminator active in the Spanish region of Castile in the third quarter of the 15th century. Little is known of the artist, but his name suggests that he was of English origin. He likely trained in the Netherlands, or possibly Germany, before immigrating permanently to the Iberian Peninsula. Inglés, like all Spanish artists of the period, looked to external sources for inspiration, such as prints from Germany and the Netherlands, as well as tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. His sculptural and expressive figures, in particular, reveal the influence of Rogier van der Weyden and Martin Schongauer. Highly significantly, Inglés was the first identifiable artist in Castile to employ the Netherlandish technique of oil on panel, achieving unprecedented colour and sharpness.

Our panel was originally part of an altarpiece commissioned by Íñigo López de Mendoza, Marqués de Santillana, an important literary and political figure in 15th century Spain. Inglés designed the retable to illustrate a poem venerating the Virgin composed by the Marqués. On 5 June 1455 López de Mendoza added a codicil to his will, ordering the completed altarpiece to be placed in the church of the Hospital de San Salvador in Buitrago, his ancestral village. Most of the surviving panels remain in the collection of the Marqués de Santillana on permanent loan to the Museo Nacional del Prado. The main panel portrays the devout patrons praying before a sculpted Virgin. The predella below depicts four half-length figures, the fathers of the church. Twelve angels bearing verses from the poem appear in the other panels, while the Marqués is shown holding the last stanza in another, a clear indication that the altarpiece was in celebration of his writng.

An 18th century journal entry by Anotonio Ponz is the earliest reference to the altarpiece. He describes paintings of three individual saints that were designed to be placed along the top of the polyptych, but which were removed and displayed on posts nearby instead. The three panels featuring Saints George, Sebastian and Santiago were subsequently lost. Our painting of Saint George is believed to be one of the missing three based on its stylistic semblance to the larger work and Ponz’s description. Infrared images of the larger work, published for the first time in 2012 in the Boletin del Museo del Prado (op. cit.), make certain the attribution and origin of the present panel. The under drawing of the patron’s wife is nearly identical to the under drawing of the head of Saint George. The infrared images reveal Inglés’ highly individualised style and process; the way he adjusted and corrected his forms and composition. His skill is apparent in the elaborate, unevenly distributed and varied brushstrokes.

Originating in the Golden Legend, the tale of Saint George and the Dragon tells the story of a town in Libya that is preyed upon by a plague-bearing dragon. The townspeople appease the beast by feeding it two sheep a day until they eventually run out of livestock and are forced to sacrifice their daughters, one a day chosen by lot. When the king’s own daughter is selected to be fed to the dragon, he makes desperate appeals to his countrymen to spare her, but is refused. Dressed as a virginal bride, the princess goes to her fate, but just as the dragon appears, so does a travelling Christian knight. Saint George valiantly slays the dragon, thereby saving the princess and the town, which subsequently converts to Christianity in response to the crusader’s rescue.

The rarity and importance of such an accomplished panel from 15th century Spain cannot be underestimated. Aside from the quality of the work and masterly skill of the author, its medium alone marks its significance being amongst the first oil on panel works in Spain, a technique which, as noted, was bought to the country by Inglés himself.

The attribution of Jorge Inglés was first proposed by Charles Sterling and was endorsed in 2009 by Dr. Isabel Mateo Gomez, Academias de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Madrid), Santa Isabel de Hungría (Sevilla) and Fernán González (Burgos).

Date:  3rd quarter of 15th century
Period:  1400-1600, 15th century
Origin:  Spain
Medium: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 168.9 x 56.8 cm (66¹/₂ x 22³/₈ inches)
Provenance: Charles Stein (1840-1899) Collection, Paris
His sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 10-14 May 1886, lot 264 (as Hans Baldung Grien)
Victor Martin Le Roy (1843-1918) Collection, Paris, by 1909
Sotheby’s, London, 8 July 2009, lot 19
Private collection, United States
Literature: P. Leprieur in Catalogue raisonné de la collection Martin Le Roy, Vol. V (Paris, 1909), pp. 57-60, no. 16, pl. XIV (as 'Spanish School')
S. Reinach, Répertoire de peintures du moyen âge et de la Renaissance (1280-1580), Vol. IV (Paris, 1918), p. 553, no. 1 (as ‘attributed to Spanish School?’)
C. R. Post, A History of Spanish Painting, Vol. IV, Pt. 1 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933), pp. 196-198, fig. 54 (as ‘School of Palencia?’); Vol. VII, Pt. 2 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1938), pp. 862-864 (as ‘St. Ildefonso Master’)
J. A. Gaya Nuño, La Pintura española fuera de España (Madrid, 1958), p. 93, no. 74 (as ‘School of Palencia’)
F. J. Sánchez Cantón, ‘Maestro Jorge Inglés, Pintor y Miniaturista del Marqués de Santillana’ in Boletin de la Sociedad Española de Excursiones, Vol. XXV (1917), pp. 99-105; Vol. XXVI (1918), pp. 27-31
P. S. Maroto, ‘El Retablo de los Gozos de Maria de Jorge Inglés’ in Boletin del Museo del Prado, Vol. 30, no. 48 (2012), pp. 6-23
I. G. Bango Torviso, ‘Los Retables de Jorge Inglés en el Hospital de Buitrago’ in Ars Magazine, Vol. 6, no. 17 (2013), pp. 92-103
Exhibitions: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Special Loan Exhibition of the Middle Ages, 1945
Finch College Museum of Art, New York, Sixty-Six Paintings in Search of Their Authors, 21 November 1969 – 20 January 1970, no. 4 (as Spanish School, 15th century)
Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, Hornu, L'Homme, le Dragon et la Mort. La Gloire de saint Georges, 18 October 2015 – 17 January 2016, no. 20
Categories: Sculpture