Green George 3: the favour

‘Favours’ were usually scarves gifted by admirers to knights about to joust or leave for battle, and a recipient would wear the favour tied about his person. In the medieval poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Gawain sports the favour of a belt gifted to him by Lady Bertilak de Hautdesert. Wrapped twice around his waist, it’s a gift he later regrets accepting, and thereafter wears as a badge of his shame.

In this painting the favour tied around Saint George’s left upper arm is dragged upwards and out of the picture by the wind. In a hieratic composition of arrested movement, it’s the one thing that pulls away from the painting’s focus-point of the killing-blow. The saint, his horse, the maiden on the mount and the dog next to her, all fix attention on the task in hand. The favour alone seems bent on another mission, whipped toward heaven by the unseen ferment.

I’m quite secretive about the subtexts to my paintings, preferring that viewers create their own narratives. When making this painting, my secret knowledge was that the maiden on the mount was not the giver of George’s favour. His heart does not belong to her, which quite apart from the fact that she was very nearly the ‘Dragon’s Bride’ (or perhaps its meal), seems good enough reason for her pensive demeanour. But the time-honoured rituals must be observed, so there she sits, the token, if unwanted prize of a saint with other things on his mind. When a suitable period has elapsed, she’ll no doubt be parcelled off by her family to another suitor more inclined to wear her favour in battle, leaving George to his reveries of an absent, unidentified lover.

I add elements into paintings that can capture senses other than vision. I see the favour and in my inner-ear I hear its silk snap and crackle, tugged by a briny-scented wind from the sea.

The lance, a cool celadon green in George’s hand, turns molten red as it plunges into the dragon’s chest.

9 thoughts on “Green George 3: the favour

  1. Pingback: Green George: behind the scenes | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. ah, this is fascinating, i had no idea about the favors, and i love that added history in the tale. also, what you say about it being the one thing not directing attention to the task at hand…like a secret doorway to another tale, we are all made up of more than one, after all, and it’s an intriguing way to give more “flesh” or perspective to the character.

  3. Is there a story behind St.George’s almost modern, well timeless at any rate, garb, Clive? His helmet reminds me of lots of things visually, but nothing too specific.

    Or is it another layer of the mystery?

    • The answer is there in your question. ‘Timeless’ is the key. I don’t want to clad these stories in the trappings of a distant past, and yet I hold back from making them completely of today, when Saint George would probably be a biker-boy, and the dragon some sharp-suited banker or thuggish corporation! The timeless aspect allows the story to visually flourish, rather than be hijacked by the picturesqueness of history, or a modernity that would render it incomprehensible. It’s a delicate balance, and I try not to draw too much attention to the mechanics. The World War One ‘Tommy’ helmet is iconic in the sense that it immediately conjures a marshall tone, and yet this Saint George has no fancy parade-ground armour, no flak-jacket and no modern weaponry. He’s more dad’s-army than officer class, and yet he’s clearly a youth. A heavenly warrior… with green credentials, perhaps… astride a horse the colour of flame. Mysteries, yes. There must always be mysteries.

  4. Oooh I do like a good subtext! 🙂 and maybe the dragon was distracted a moment by the silk, a flick of the eye at the fabric caught in the breeze and oops too late for this fierce beast… hmmm either way he’s met his match in your saint.

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