San Giorgio by Donatello: a holy warrior exposed at the Bargello

San Giorgio by Donatello: a holy warrior exposed at the Bargello


The San Giorgio by Donatello is part of the fourteen statues of the patron of the arts in Florence sculpted for the external niches of the Orsanmichele church. Made of Apuan marble and 209 cm high, the work dates from 1415 to 1417 and was commissioned by the Art of Armor and Sword. From 1891 it is preserved at the National Museum of the Bargello after that, in its original location, the nose of the saint was broken with a stone.

San Giorgio was a holy warrior, that's why he had been chosen as a patron of the Art of Hormor and Sword, that were weapons manufacturers. The statue soon collected a great success and is still recognized as the best work of the Orsanmichele arts cycle and one of the masterpieces by Donatello and Italian statuary of the XV century.

St. George is portrayed here as a knight in armor and shield. The saint is conceived in the act of looking to the northwest, the direction in which there were the traditional enemies of Florence (such as Lucca and Milan).The gesture is highlighted by compact and statics construction of the body which, using the contrast, amplifies the gesture, also underlined by the tendons in his neck, the furrowed brows and the expressive chiaroscuro in the pupils. The effect is typical of the best works by Donatello, with a withheld energy and vitality but yet perfectly visible.

Already in the middle of the fifteenth century, the statue was seen as a model of perfection for the fierceness of spirit and contrast that seems to arise between the will of action that transpires from the look and the steadfast firmness of the support. Despite the armor, that for the characterization of the sculpture is an obstacle because of the rigidity of metal that removes every expressive function, Donatello has managed to create a lively and vibrant image. The figure, with perfect proportions and articulations is characterized by harmonious forms and great naturalness. The work stands out for its strong realism and an attitude anything but religious, indeed purely military. It is the representation of a soldier on guard, focused and ready to spring into action.

The figure firmly dominates the space of the tabernacle, in which it appears. Indeed, it seems that the tabernacle can't contain or restrain him. It appears that he wants to get out, and right here is the fundamental point that, by itself, expresses all the energy and strength of the sculpture.

Yet it is a saint. This confirmed in the underlying relief, which depicts the scene of the fighting of a knight who frees a princess from a dragon. So, we understand well that this young hero is St. George. Here Donatello uses, for the first time, a new technique, called "the stiacciato" which decreases the thickness of the pad in a gradual way and with millimetric variations so to create effects of light and shade very similar to those of the painting.