The epic story of one of the world's most desirable pieces of art; an exquisite Raphael, a trophy painting and a pawn in world political power play.
St George and the Dragon is a supremely beautiful painting. It is an exquisitely rendered vision of a universal tale of good and evil. And it is also an example of how art witnesses and participates in the ebb and flow of world power. For its artist Raphael the painting represented a crucial step in his ascent to the peak of the Renaissance art world and for a succession of jealous owners it was the ultimate symbol of power and prestige. Painted for Henry VII the painting then played a crucial part in the diplomatic intrigues in Henry VIII's rumbustious court. After Charles I's execution it moved through France into the gathering power and purchases of Catherine the Great and her Hermitage. It is a small work of art and during the Russian Revolution its vulnerability was perilous - it was shunted around Russia as war raged until, in an utterly dodgy transaction it was sold by Stalin to the US Treasury Secretary. Into the grips of a new world power. Within this perfectly rendered painting stories of greed and warfare can be traced, in its history the changing centres of world dominance can be seen and in the way its beauty has been traded the intricate connections between high culture and money and power can be disentangled. This small work of art is a repository of the very story of Western civilisation and Joanna Pitman is an author of considerable acclaim and great skill. This is a fantastic piece of literature - history at its most fascinating - storytelling at its finest.