An image of The wedding of St George

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

(England 12 May 1828 – 09 Apr 1882)

The wedding of St George

Not on display
Further information

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the main intellectual force behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), formed in 1848, which during its brief existence affected a revolution in British painting. The important members were Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Ford Madox Brown never became a member of the PRB, but acted as mentor and supporter.

The true Pre-Raphaelite period was brief, lasting from the formation of the brotherhood in 1848 until its effective disbanding in c.1852. The movement retained a certain consistency until c.1865, but after this its importance was mainly through its influence on a new generation of painters.

Rossetti exhibited only two oil paintings during the PRB period. Discouraged by adverse criticism he turned almost exclusively to painting in watercolours. It was in this medium that he produced a series of highly imaginative works based on literary and historical subjects, most commonly set in the middle ages.

Between 1861-62 Rossetti designed a series of six stained glass windows for the firm William Morris & Company depicting scenes from the legend of St George and the dragon. The six window panels are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The cartoons are in the Birmingham City Art Gallery.

Rossetti was subsequently inspired to make meticulously worked-up watercolours after two of the original drawings: 'St George and the dragon' 1863 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and this work 'The Wedding of St George' 1864.

In the central archway behind a stone parapet St George and Princess Sabra embrace. Directly below them, laid out on a large platter is the bloodied sword and grisly trophy: the head of a slain dragon. Two trumpeters frame the scene symmetrically.

In a letter to the picture dealer, Ernest Gambart (12 April 1864) Rossetti wrote: "I had some slight doubt as to this drawing suiting you, it being a Wedding of Saint George... I thought perhaps your discouraging experience of the dragon might have frightened you off the saint altogether. Nevertheless, I believe this drawing might please you, being one of the best I ever did, full of cheerfulness and very brilliant, I think, in colour and completeness...".

The composition recalls medieval manuscript illuminations. The claustrophic space and insistent two-dimensionality are innovatory for this period in British art and would deeply affect later artists such as Burne-Jones.

Not only is the work unusually colourful, it is also extremely well preserved. Rossetti's early water-colour technique involves the use of a dry opaque watercolour probably bound with gum. The paint is built up, and in places scratched back, to give a depth and intensity uncommon in the medium. This work retains all the brilliance and jewel-like intensity which were admired in Rossetti's early watercolours by contemporaries such as Ruskin.

Part of the appeal of the work is also in its personal subject matter. Rossetti depicted himself as St George. Elizabeth Siddal is shown as Princess Sabra (the watercolour dates from two years after her death). Rossetti's sister, Christina, appears as the queen, and his brother, William Michael, as the king.

watercolour and bodycolour with gum and scraping out over traces of pencil
29.0 x 35.3 cm image; 31.2 x 38.4 cm sheet; 47.0 x 53.5 x 2.5 cm frame
Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l., "DGR [in monogram] 1864".

Purchased with funds provided by John Schaeffer 2003
Accession number
Emily Ebbs Williams, 1864-1912, England, presented to Emily Ebbs Williams by her husband RH Williams as a wedding present, by bequest to her sister Lady Gosse in 1912
Ernest Gambart, 1864, London/England, [dealer] probably with Ernest Gambart
Lady Gosse, 1912-1928, England, by bequest, sister of Emily Ebbs Williams
G.P Dudley Wallis, 1928
Kerrison Preston, 1940
Beaux Arts London, 1940, London/England
Newman, 1953
Jerrold Northrop Moore, 1958-circa 1964, New Haven/Connecticut/United States of America, in the collection of Moore until at least 1964
Alister Matthews, 1958
Macmillam & Perrin Gallery, Vancouver, post 1964-pre 1978, Vancouver/British Columbia/Canada, dates unknown
Stuart Pivar, 1978
Hirschl & Adler, New York, 1998, New York/New York/United States of America
Hirschl & Adler, New York, pre 01 Dec 2003, New York/New York/United States of America, Purchased by the AGNSW from Hirschl & Adler 2003
Private Collection, pre 01 Dec 2003, United States of America