Saint George Slaying the Dragon

Qes Adamu Tesfaw (Ethiopian, b. 1933)
Paint on cloth
Work : 58 x 39 1/2 in. (1.5 x 1 m)
Credit Line
Gift of Neal and Elizabeth Sobania
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Followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church believe that saints can intercede with God on a person’s behalf to provide blessings or absolve sins, so images of saints appear frequently in church murals and icon paintings. Saint George is the most widely venerated saint in Ethiopia. Church tradition says that Saint George was a Roman soldier who was martyred in 303 CE for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. Later writers embellished his biography by telling how Saint George once saved a beautiful princess from a dragon that was demanding human sacrifices. The story of Saint George slaying the dragon has long been a favorite subject for Ethiopian artists, who often portray him in the guise of an Ethiopian nobleman riding a white horse and attacking a dragon with a spear. Such paintings are widely understood as metaphors for Christ’s triumph over Satan and reinforce the image of Saint George as a protector figure. Paintings of Saint George are often paired with paintings of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopian church murals and icons since, according to a text called The Miracles of Mary, Mary is supposed once to have said to a young person she cured of an illness: “George follows me always. He never parts from me wherever I go. I send him all places for help.” The title Qes in front of the artist’s name indicates that he is an ordained priest. Qes Adamu comes from the village of Bichena in Gojjam province, which, like Aksum, is known for producing artists. Although he has not been active as a member of the clergy since the 1960s, Adamu’s paintings remain firmly rooted in the teachings and artistic traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

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