Featured Museum Piece
St. George Figurine by Royal Doulton
When you visit our showroom and museum (and we hope that’s very soon), we hope our museum feature for this newsletter will make you stop and stare. “St. George” by Royal Doulton is a large porcelain figurine that must be one of the most dramatic pieces in all our collection, with an equally dramatic story.
According to tradition, St. George was born into a family of Christians in the third century. His father served as an officer in the Roman army. At some point in his youth George’s mother, then a widow, returned to her native Lydda, in Judea, accompanied by her son. Following his education, George, like his father, joined the Roman army. Stationed in Nicomedia, he achieved the rank of “tribunus” (tribune) when he was in his 20s, then “comes” (count), serving as a member of the elite personal guard for the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. When Diocletian issued an edict in 303 calling for the persecution of all Christians in the Roman Empire, George refused to participate. He confessed his own Christianity and questioned the wisdom of the edict. Enraged, Diocletian ordered his torture and execution. After brutal torture, George was decapitated before Nicomedia’s city walls. Witnesses to his suffering, the Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, converted to Christianity. They, too, were martyred by the Romans. George’s body was returned to the city of his youth, Lydda, where he was buried. Soon Christians began to journey to the city to pay homage. A church was built in Lydda in 306, during the reign of Emperor Constantine I, that may have been dedicated to George, but it was destroyed in the 11th century. The church was rebuilt and destroyed during two Crusades, the second time by the legendary sultan and military genius, Saladin. Finally, it was rebuilt in 1872, where it stands today.
The legend of St. George slaying the dragon, depicted so often in verse and art, began to emerge in the 11th century and was later incorporated into the knightly codes of chivalry of the medieval period. In the legend, a dragon living in a marsh near a city brings pestilence and destruction wherever it turns. To appease the creature, the citizens make daily sacrifices of their livestock, until their food is depleted. Then they offer the creature their children, chosen by a daily lottery. On one day, Cleolinda, the daughter of the ruler of the city, is chosen. Dressed as a bride, she is led to the marsh for her sacrifice. George comes upon the scene on horseback. Seeing what is about to happen, he wounds the dragon with his magic sword, requests that the young woman give him her “girdle,” or sash, and makes a leash. The girdle tames the beast so that it can be led to the city, where George slays it after telling the citizens that they should convert to Christianity.
St. George, who became the patron saint of England, was immortalized as the “Red Cross Knight” in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem, the “Fairie Queene,” published in 1590 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. To this day the red cross on a white background serves as the flag of England (not the United Kingdom).
The most striking characteristic of the “St. George” figurine by Royal Doulton (in our museum) is the upright position of St. George himself. As in most depictions, he is astride a white horse. This particular depiction is wonderfully accurate for a medieval warhorse, a big animal, more at home in front of a plough than on a race course, an animal bred for power and endurance, rather than speed. (After all, he had all that armor to carry, not to mention his rider!) But what is strikingly different is that in this depiction St. George is looking upwards. Most often paintings or sculptures show him looking down, often with a long lance under his arm, skewering the dragon to the ground at his horse’s hooves. In the Royal Doulton piece, however, St. George has the horse’s reins drawn back against his chest, leaning back in his saddle to view something enormous. His sword is bare, held in his right hand, hidden from sight by his horse’s haunch. Behind the sword are the three lions rampant, the heraldic symbol of Richard I, Richard the Lionheart, who measured victories against Saladin in the Third Crusade.
The expression on the face of St. George is calm, resolute. It is easy to imagine that depicted here is the very moment when St. George first confronted the monster he must slay. According to our museum literature, the “St. George” figurine by Royal Doulton was available in two versions, one with brown hair, one with blond. Our figurine has brown hair. The figurine was immensely popular in England during the 1920s. This is to be expected, given the horrific casualties endured by England and the United Kingdom in World War I. British battle dead in that war numbered more than 900,000. (To give a measure of the effect on that small nation, in all of World War II, the United States suffered 290,000 battle dead.) Here against the memory of that awful carnage just ended stands the magnificent, resolute figure of “St. George,” patron saint of England, by Royal Doulton.
We invite you to visit our showroom and museum! While the “St. George” figurine by Royal Doulton, like our other museum pieces, is not for sale, there are many Royal Doulton items available for purchase, and thousands of other china, crystal, silver, and collectible items for you to select from. Our facilities are open from 9:00am – 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week, except holidays. Free tours are available. We are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. Visit our web site or call us for directions. We look forward to seeing you!
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