Paul Johnson

Time for St George to start slaying dragons again

Time for St George to start slaying dragons again

The most striking work in the spine-tingling show at the National Gallery, ‘Rubens: A Master in the Making’, is the enormous painting of St George slaying the Dragon (Prado). What I like about Rubens is that he always goes over the top. Here, the head of the saint’s charger, and especially the mane, is a creative phantasmagoria of hirsute auxesis, and balancing it is the monster’s crazy head, especially the mouth, already skewered by St George’s lance, and exhibiting catastrophic cavities of such horror that it ought to hang in dentists’ waiting-rooms as an example of what happens if you don’t scour your teeth with a yard-brush.

The dragon is a bestialisation of political correctness, and St George, a ferocious fellow in a magnificent helmet and plume, is giving it hell with his claymore, and rightly so, for the PC fanatics have just declared him Public Enemy Number One. What they particularly object to is not only his dragon-slaying, which is (I quote) ‘a peculiarly nauseating blood-sport, especially since it is aimed at an endangered species’, but, still more, his cross of red-on-white, an emblem of Crusaders and thus ‘unbearably provocative’. From the PC underground HQ in the basement of University College, London, the edict has gone out: get St George and his cross. Among the objects of the campaign are renaming Charing Cross, King’s Cross Station and St George’s Chapel, Windsor, taking down the big cross on top of St Paul’s Cathedral (the Dean has already given his assent to ‘an appropriate ecunemical gesture’) and a general ‘revision’ of Shakespeare to eliminate such ‘unacceptable’ lines as Henry V’s racist slogan ‘Cry God for Harry, England and St George!’

Joking apart, there is in fact a determined and carefully thought-out movement to ban from state schools any little girl who wears a cross, however tiny, round her neck.

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