A Different Perspective


This week I discovered Albrecht Altdorfer’s ‘Saint George and the Dragon.’

I’ve been inspired before by Uccello’s version, which heralded the Renaissance and redrew the rules of painting with its extreme perspective as below.


But Altdorfer’s small panel painted in 1510 was revolutionary in its own right. It was the intermediate ‘evolutionary form’ between portrait and landscape. Within a decade of ‘Saint George!, Altdorfer was painting and printing some of the first “true” landscapes in Northern Europe.

The dense forest dominates a tiny Saint George looking diffidently at the rather uninspiring dragon. His horse doesn’t fancy it much, and the whole scene – robbed of the customary ‘damsel in distress’ of Uccello’s has a ‘more in sadness than in anger’ feel.


Here’s what Daily Art App has to say:

This tiny panel (22.5cm x 28cm) is filled with the ferocious wildness of the forest, from which the lumpy, froglike dragon seems to emerge, slobbering with primordial slime.

In a little window where the trees open, the light of the outside world burns through. St. George is not in the act of killing the dragon—rather, he seems to be looking down on it with pity. His lance hangs limply at his side.

Altdorfer’s George looks tired, his armor is dingy, and the horse seems to shrink back in disgust at the sight of the formless, murky dragon.

The figures become lost in the ferocious foliage (ferocious like the dragon traditionally should be) which threatens to choke out the figures themselves (who should traditionally be the focus), and they all seem to merge into monochrome.

The knight seems to be musing on something within himself which he knows he must slay in order to leave the dark forest of the unconscious and emerge

Although Uccello’s is one of my favourite paintings (forever associated, in my mind, with the buzz and bustle of London due to its place on wall panels at Charing Cross tube) Altdorfer’s is more my type of Saint George.

A thing to be done but not revelled in. A certain amount of ambiguity, a fearful horse and a lumpen unfortunate dragon – a moment of pause and perhaps uncertainty.

Few true acts of ‘bravery’ in real life are as clear cut as Uccello’s. Most have the ambiguity and uncertainty of Altdorfer’s Saint George – which usually makes them all the braver.



I know art is in the eye of the beholder. Indeed, I’ve read that pre-1790 pretty much everyone painted and built in their country or culture’s accepted prevailing style. Self-conscious choice of ‘Art’ was a 19th century invention, but still…

This 1748 painting has been bugging me for some weeks – since it appeared on my DailyArt App – and I’ve finally decided that it is rubbish.

Finely wrought, technically correct but simply rubbish. Duff setting, inane message, bad colours and overwrought emotions. I’m no doubt a victim of the modern era. Maybe future generations – as those of the past – will come to venerate it.

But for me Los Angeles (where it lives) is very welcome to it. Give me a Greek statue, medieval tableau, crazy early Renaissance perspective, Leonardo’s cadavers, Durer’s rabbits, Van Gogh’s psychedelic skies, Malevich’s knife cutter or even our local Pinocchio sprayed on a concrete stairwell.


But Boucher’s ‘Fountain of Love’ has run dry for me.

As Aristotle famously said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I keep looking at this picture but I can’t see it.

Arts and Draughts


I found myself talking Art – with a nice bloke I’ve never met before – in the pub this week. It was at a leaving do for my other half.

Neither of us look like gallery buffs. But a happy coincidence of amateur enthusiasm for the painterly arts, meant two slightly awkward men – with ostensibly nothing in common – had a surprising bond.

He told me about a couple of lectures he’d been to at the National Gallery: what’s hidden in Turner’s boats and skies, what’s interesting about (two painters neither of us usually find remotely interesting) Gainsborough and Reynolds.

I told him about ‘Barge haulers on the Volga‘ and the problems of perspective for Renaissance composition (realism can really get in the way of symbolism – see Uccello navigating the transition from Medieval to modern above).

We finished on intrigue and alchemy in Nineteenth century porcelain (him) and the challenges of making colours and the discovery of new blues (me, him and Monet).

A cracking natter. We could’ve done footy – he offered me Everton FC early on. But something about him (chair of his local synagogue, England Rugby shirt, a bald head and long grey curls) made me venture portraiture.

I’m so glad I did. Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ in action.