‘I intended to be a racehorse trainer, but a winter in Venice, and in particular Carpaccio’s enchanting paintings, led me astray.'

St George and the Dragon, 1502, by Vittore Carpaccio (1460/5–1523/26), 56in by 140in, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice, Italy. Bridgeman Images.

Rose Paterson says:
‘I intended to be a racehorse trainer, but a winter in Venice, and in particular Carpaccio’s enchanting paintings, led me astray. Thanks to him, I spent the next 20 years at Sotheby’s instead. Much later, annual trips to Croatia reminded me why I loved Carpaccio’s paintings all over again. St George and the Dragon is properly Gothic. I love the melodrama of the broken lance, the juddering impact of dragon versus horse and the rather unseemly relish with which Carpaccio depicts dismembered corpses, skulls and bones, while cutely reminding us of his fashionable foreshortening skills and interest in exotic architecture’

Rose Paterson is the first woman Chairman of Aintree Racecourse, which hosts the Grand National this weekend.

John McEwen comments:
The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni was the guildhall of the Dalmatians (Slavs) in Venice, a kind of seaman’s institute. The Venetian scuole were the equivalent of London’s livery companies. Charity was their common aim, but the scuole were more religious in their rituals. The Dalmatians found no native artist up to scratch, so they commissioned the Venetian Carpaccio—at the peak of his career and fresh from painting a series on St Ursula for another Venetian scuola.

Three of the nine San Giorgio pictures are devoted to St George, one of Dalmatia’s patron saints. The legend was that George, on his knightly travels, came across a Libyan city in thrall to a monstrous dragon. The citizens had tried to placate the dragon by submitting sacrificial victims, first animals, then humans. George’s timely arrival saved the king’s daughter, Princess Cleodolinda (or Sabra), from this gruesome end, indicated in the picture by the strewn bits and pieces of previous human victims. he galloped to her rescue and, when he made the sign of the cross, the dragon submitted to his spear.

Jan Morris, who chose a gentler picture from the series for us, recently made Carpaccio the subject of her final book, Ciao, Carpaccio!. It is dedicated to harry’s Bar, where ‘beef carpaccio’ and its variants were invented in the 1960s, giving the artist a new claim to fame.

St George was adopted as patron saint of england by Edward III (1312–77), but, in 1969, the Catholic Church finally decided he was too mythological and deprived him of bona-fide saintly status.

This article was originally published in Country Life, April 8, 2015

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