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Exquisite Renaissance Masterwork for the Huntington

May 16, 2012

Giovan Angelo del Maino (ca. 1470–ca. 1536),St. George and the Dragon, ca. 1522–27, polychrome and gilt wood, 27 ¾ x 16 x 7 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens has acquired this handsome, beautifully conceived and executed sculpture of St. George and the Dragon by the 16th century Lombard master Giovan Angelo del Maino. The work is newly attributed to the artist due to collaborative scholarship. Remarkably, according to a press release (courtesy Art Daily), “Before this new assessment, it was not confirmed whether the work was even Italian.”  If, as Lily Tomlin famously quipped, reality is a collective hunch, then discerning art historic scholarship of this level ranks amongst is its finest iterations.

More about the acquisition and the significance of the work from the press release:

Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington and specialist in European sculpture, identified del Maino as the maker of the previously unattributed St. George and the Dragon in consultation with colleague Giancarlo Gentilini, a leading scholar of early Italian sculpture based at Perugia University in Italy, followed by her research.

In addition to spectacular carvings that remain in situ in Italy, some of del Maino’s works have entered public institutions, including an extravagantly carved altar made around 1530 for the church of Sant’Agostino, Piacenza, that is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The only other work by the artist known to be in the United States is a panel depicting the Massacre of the Innocents in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

St. George and the Dragon, which stands 27 ¾ inches high, will go on public view in a room in the Huntington Art Gallery that will be devoted to religious Renaissance art, set to open this summer after a complete reinstallation.

St. George and the Dragon

St. George and the Dragon depicts the legendary hero riding bareback, raising his right arm as he prepares to slay the monster beneath him with a lance. The dragon twists around toward his attacker and attempts to fight back by striking the horse with his right claw. The figure group sits on an elegantly carved base composed of panels of scrolling foliage displaying a pair of putti holding a shield beneath a bishop’s miter and staff—important elements that helped identify the patron and confirm the artist.

Gentilini recently suggested del Maino as the sculptor, recognizing the artist’s specific figural style and use of vibrant polychromy (various paint colors). Hess then overlaid his findings with her research. Before this new assessment, it was not confirmed whether the work was even Italian.

Del Maino is considered the greatest exponent of wood sculpture in Renaissance Lombardy, a region of Northern Italy that includes Milan. In St. George and the Dragon, he creatively employed the small hill and dragon’s claw to support the horse, allowing for it to be depicted rearing, something normally not possible in wood, which lacks tensile strength. Del Maino’s inventiveness (his dragon has troll-like ears and a lion’s tale) and the vivid decoration of the base and soldier’s costume (with colorful scalloped trousers, crested feathered helmet, fluttering skirt and flipping epaulette-like strips) are hallmarks of the artist.

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