Mythical imagery is based on themes taken from the mythology of different cultures worldwide and is a constant feature in art. Their purpose was typically to explain belief systems or historical occurrences. Getting their material from old tales passed down multiple generations, poets, authors, and artists have produced many works based on mythical imagery.
Like children drawn to fairytales, these stories about legendary heroes and anti-heroes have fascinated artists for many centuries. From gods and goddesses of Ancient Rome to lore about monsters that control natural elements, myths and legends have fueled artistic imagination and produced several famous works with fictional depictions. Perhaps one of the most famous ancient tales that has remained in modern times is the legend of dragons.
Numerous artists have attempted to capture their intimidating appearance on canvas, making these fire-breathing reptiles a recurring motif in mythical paintings. They have inspired both fear and fascination, with some narratives depicting them as criminals and others portraying them as noble creatures. In this article, we examine famous works that depict dragons.
When Did Dragon Painting Start?
Although the precise source of dragon folklore is unknown, it possibly began around 8000 BC with advancements in mining and quarrying. These technologies exposed fossilized remains of prehistoric animals. However, unlike today’s hyper-advanced technologies, outdated equipment could not provide anatomical accuracy, thereby creating the image of dragons.
Over the years, extra details such as the nature and abilities of the reptiles were added. For example, in Western popular culture, a dragon is described as a four-legged reptile, set with horns and a barbed tail. On the other hand, eastern depictions of dragons show wingless serpentine creatures. Despite the contradictions, a commonality is the dragon’s ability to breathe fire from its mouth and nostrils.
As epic tales of dragons continued to spread, so did artistic illustrations about them. Several murals and artworks depicting dragons have been discovered, and even in modern times, dragons continue to be popular motifs for fantasy art. Here are some historical dragon paintings.
St. George Slaying The Dragon by Hans Von Aachen
Von Aachen was a talented German painter of the late 1500s known for his erotic mythological images. He was a versatile artist whose works spanned numerous genres.
This historical dragon painting is one of the many depictions of the tale of St. George and the dragon. Unlike Raphael’s version, Von Aachen paints a scarier-looking dragon with a harsher background of rocks and a dark hillside. Additionally, the princess is missing from Von Aachen’s rendition.
Notwithstanding the differences, the painting portrays St. George striking the dragon’s head with his lance; his horse can also attack the dragon with its hooves.
Perseus And Andromeda 1678 by Pierre Mignard
Also called “Mignard le Romain” as a distinguishing feature, the artist was a 17th-century French painter renowned for his religious and mythical paintings.
This particular historical dragon painting was roughly inspired by a 16th-century Italian painting titled Orlando Furioso. It tells how Perseus rescued Andromeda, an Ethiopian princess chained by the seashore, and slew the sea monster that was supposed to devour her.
The scene depicts the aftermath of the rescue; Andromeda’s chains are cut loose, and the dragon’s head lies at Perseus’s feet while the rest of its body remains in the water.
Roger Delivering Angelica by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Famously referred to as J.A.D. Ingres, the prolific artist, was a French Neoclassical painter of the 19th century. He is primarily remembered for his abstraction of the human form and his portrait paintings.
Roger Delivering Angelica is an 1819 oil painting inspired by Ludivico Ariosto’s 16th-century epic poem, Orlando Furioso (Raging Orlando). Today it is owned by the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The painting depicts the tale of Roger, a brave knight with a half-horse, half-eagle creature called the hippogriff as his steed. He sees beautiful Angelica stripped and chained to a rock, offered as a human sacrifice to a sea monster by barbarians. As he attempts to rescue her, the sea dragon emerges from the waters, prompting Roger to drive his lance into the dragon’s temple.
St. George And The Dragon by Raphael
This is a miniature panel painting by Italian Renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, known simply as Raphael. He is a third of the trinity of great masters during the High Renaissance period, the other two being Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
The painting visually narrates the epic tale of St. George subduing the dragon. This artwork was produced in 1505, and it is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The interesting fact is that the artist made two versions of the painting.
It depicts the scene where the armor-clad Saint rescues a princess. He subdues the dragon with his wooden lance as the princess watches in the background with her hands clasped in gratitude. The dragon is portrayed as a dark figure on the ground, emphasizing its threat and, ultimately, his defeat.
St. Michael And The Dragon by Raphael
This is another one of the artists’ works based on the biblical book of Revelation, and was created sometime between 1504 and 1505. The artwork was commissioned by the Duke of Urbino in honor of Louis XII of France.
The tapestry depicts archangel Michael fighting tiny dragon-like creatures. As Michael tramples one of the dragons under his foot, one hand raises a sword, and the other holds a shield. The scene is set in a bleak background with the silhouette of a city set ablaze in the distance.
The rendition of the work in shades of red and black intensifies its apocalyptic theme. The painting is the first of two works by Raphael on martial subjects.
From poetry to literature and the visual arts, the dragon has commanded the attention of men from ancient societies to modern times. Perhaps the dragon’s ferocity exudes untamable power or the mystery that shrouds its nature; whichever the case, dragons have maintained their place as one of the most popular muses for mythical art.
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