St. George with a cupbearer

Date: Mid-thirteenth century
Medium: Tempera, Linen, Wood, Silver
Dimensions: 26.8 × 18.8 cm
Description: This painted wooden panel shows St. George on horseback, riding through a stylized landscape accompanied by a young male cupbearer who raises a beaker of wine. A collection of the saint's miracles recounts that the boy was a Christian (most likely from Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos) who was taken captive and brought to the Muslim emirate of Crete. St. George was credited with saving the boy while he was in the act of serving his captors. The rescue was due to pious prayer, either by the boy or his parents, and the miracle of the cupbearer must have resonated especially in places where Christians were threatened by Muslim attack.

Cupbearers (saqis) were attendants in Islamicate courts, and as exemplars of courtly life they were depicted in diverse media for patrons—not necessarily Muslim—across the eastern Mediterranean region. Such cupbearers are shown with St. George only in that region; elsewhere, other images of the fourth-century martyr saint were favored. Veneration of St. George increased after his alleged appearances to European armies fighting for possession of the Christian Holy Land during the First Crusade (1096–99).

On stylistic grounds the panel dates to the mid-thirteenth century and comes from an eastern Mediterranean milieu. Its format and iconography evoke Byzantine icons, and the relief background imitates the silver revetment applied to such icons, but in this case the background was built up from gesso and then colored silver. Therefore, the panel was probably not produced in a Byzantine setting for Orthodox veneration; it was likely made for a western European patron, to be offered to a church of St. George. The saint's burial place was at Lydda (Lod, in Israel), which was captured by crusading armies in 1099, so the panel may have been destined for that church. Yet there are panels with the same style and technique at Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, and works of similar style were made at Acre, the last crusader possession in the Holy Land. Art from this time and region is often very difficult to localize.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 7, 8
Image Credits: © The Trustees of the British Museum

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St. George with a cupbearer, British Museum, reverse