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The Dragon's Trail

The Biography of Raphael's Masterpiece

Joanna Pitman

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.

Description

Raphael's St. George and the Dragon is the work of a genius -- an exquisitely rendered vision of heroism and innocence by one of the greatest painters of all time. Yet the painting's creation is only the beginning of its fascinating story, which spans centuries of power play and intrigue, and has made it a witness to the rise and fall of the great powers of the Western world as it seduced its owners to ever greater heights of corruption and greed.

Raphael's masterpiece was commissioned by Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, the ruler of Urbino, in 1506. Raphael was only twenty-three years old, but he had already begun to acquire a reputation as a painter who was as ruthless in his pursuit of money as he was talented. The duke sent the painting to England's King Henry VII as a thank-you for naming him a knight in the Order of the Garter.

The painting then mysteriously disappeared for one hundred years until King Charles I saw it hanging in the collection of the Earl of Pembroke and acquired it for a book of Holbein drawings. After Charles was beheaded in 1649, his collection was broken up and the painting made its way to the private gallery of the third-richest man in France, where it was ensconced in its own special room. Thirty years later, the philosopher Diderot was instructed by Catherine the Great of Russia to buy it for her vast collection at the Hermitage.

The heroic curators of the Hermitage protected St. George and the Dragon from fire, water, and the anarchists of the Russian Revolution, until Joseph Stalin sold it in 1930 to raise cash. The secret buyer was Andrew Mellon, Treasury Secretary of the United States, who in doing so blatantly violated a U.S. sanction against doing any business with Soviet Russia. Mellon eventually founded The National Gallery in Washington, D.C., where St. George and the Dragon rests to this day.

Exceptionally written and breathlessly paced, The Dragon's Trail is a microhistory that touches on the rise of the Tudors, the downfall of a Stuart, the twilight of the French aristocracy, the terrors of the Bolshevik revolution, and the depths of the Cold War -- all witnessed by one painting that inspired the best and the worst instincts in its owners.

Publishers Weekly Review

Jan 22, 2007 – Now in the collection at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Raphael's St. George and the Dragon was a thank-you gift from Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, to Henry VII in 1506 for making him a knight of the Order of the Garter (St. George was the order's patron saint). The work has had a complex, contested ownership, including Charles I, French financier Pierre Crozat, Catherine the Great, Joseph Stalin and Andrew Mellon. Pitman (On Blondes), photography critic for the Times of London, enthusiastically unravels this provenance in a skillfully paced, energetically written account that reads like a detective story, though her deep research includes archives from the Hermitage and interviews with prominent historians. Pitman's portrait of Raphael is vivid if familiar, describing a precocious, highly ambitious and financially astute artist-courtier who was a bitter rival of Michelangelo, a committed womanizer and consummate professional whose death, according to Vasari, resulted from "an excessive bout of lovemaking." Pitman has a broader aim beyond this one painting: she wants to demystify art and art history. The epilogue is an ode to public museums that allow not just rulers but ordinary people to view masterpieces of art. But Pitman's passion for Raphael's painting and for the investigative process is infectious and the book's greatest strength.
The Dragon's Trail
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  • $14.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: History
  • Published: Apr 23, 2007
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Seller: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc.
  • Print Length: 304 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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