‘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.