medieval art

Man, the Dragon and Death @ MAC’s

October 24, 2015

dragons

The disappointing 1998 movie Godzilla was launched upon the public with the tagline, ‘Size does matter’. It was not a great film, so at least where monsters are concerned, big is not always better.

17 years on, the size debate may be re-ignited at Belgian gallery MAC’s. Here you’ll find a show given over to representations of an earlier lizard, the dragon killed by Saint George.

According to legend, George’s foe was 40 pieds in length. But medieval iconographers pegged him at not much bigger than a medium sized dog, easy pickings for a lance or a sword.

But this slithering creature is still worth comparing with daikaiju. Whereas the directors of B-movies set out to frighten us, most of the sculptors here have set out to reassure.

The dragon is of course an embodiment of evil. And there would be no place in a church for a 40ft, fire breathing, shadowy beast from Hell. Instead, it’s all about George.

In a catalogue essay, Julien Foucart suggests that in these altarpieces and statues, George is, “a sort of predecessor to the ‘star’ system created in the 20th century by the film industry”.

In the movie franchise, the king of monsters grew from 50m in the original Japanese version (1954) to 400ft (or 122m) for American audiences two years later. Godzilla got taller along with city.

However, the movies have no monopoly on special effects. Artists tend to depict the moment George skewers his foe (more often than not through the jaw) with relish.

In terms of violent action, it’s a rare occasion in which church goers are allowed to enjoy a gripping fight. It is certainly more pleasant to contemplate than his martyrdom.

At the behest of Roman emperor Diocletian, the saint was lacerated on a wheel of swords and resuscitated three times to appreciate just what was going on. Finally he was beheaded.

But as you know, decapitation is back in a big way, even if George got out of the middle east alive. The fictional battle with the dragon took place in 303 AD outside what is now Beruit.

Yes, George was a crusader. So ISIL’s infamous snuff movies may be thought of alongside these crusading knights and their modern counterparts. Except now it’s monster against monster.

Man, the Dragon and Death: the Glory of Saint George can be seen at MAC’S – Site du Grand Hornu, in the vicinity of Mons, Belgium, until 17 January 2015.

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