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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
St George and the Dragon
A pen and ink drawing of St George killing the dragon, in a mountainous landscape.
This drawing was produced by one of the ‘Danube’ artists, who set their compositions in fantastic landscapes, inspired by the scenery around Regensburg where they were largely based. Their works show figures dwarfed by towering cliffs and enormous trees with exuberant foliage. They specialised in producing small-scale illustrations of biblical and mythological scenes, both as panel paintings and highly worked drawings, often employing a technique whereby a coated paper (here with an olive-green preparation) formed a mid-tone between black ink and white heightening. Many of their drawings, such as the present example, were produced as finished works of art rather than preparatory studies.
The artist of this drawing has been identified as Erhard Altdorfer, the younger brother of Albrecht, Regensburg’s leading painter and printmaker. Erhard moved away from Regensburg to set up his own workshop and was established in Schwerin as court painter to the duke by 1512. No drawings are firmly attributed to his hand, but a group of works has been built up on the basis of comparison with a print of a woman signed ‘EA’ and dated 1506, and illustrations for the so-called Lübeck Bible, printed between 1531 and 1534. These suggest that Erhard’s style changed dramatically during his career, from a hesitant use of fine hatching - described as ‘spider’s-web fine’ by Hans Mielke, and ‘nervous’ by Karl Oettinger - to a confident use of a variety of strokes and texture. Erhard’s death some time after 1561 would also suggest that the 1506 print is the work of a young artist. The Windsor drawing can be placed in this earlier period, and has been convincingly connected with a drawing of a group standing by a fountain in Berlin and a drawing of the beheading of St John the Baptist in Regensburg, both attributed to Erhard.
The theme of St George fighting the dragon was an extremely popular one among artists from the Danube school, and was the subject of a number of works by Erhard’s brother Albrecht. George was one of the widely revered Fourteen Holy Helpers, a popular subject in late medieval German art.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011