Wednesday, 4 March 2015

St Margaret of Antioch

St Margaret of Antioch,  Francisco de Zurbaran, c. 1630-4
© National Gallery, London
According to legend, St Margaret lived as a shepherdess.  One day she was swallowed by Satan in the form of a dragon, but he was so stung by her crucifix that he regurgitated her unharmed.

Looking for a seat in the National Gallery one day, I think I was attracted by St. Margaret's striking shepherdess costume -- the sweeping curves of her straw hat and the vivid colours of her 'alforjas'       or saddle-bag.  At first her look of disdain reminded me of a very prissy head-prefect, definitely an irritating person to live with.  Gradually, absorbed in Zurbaran's portrayal, I understood why tyrants felt compelled to execute so many christian saints, who were so uncompromising in their faith.  Then I noticed the dragon's head, a repulsive, shapeless horror, and realised it represented the essence of pure evil which all those martyred saints condemned and despised.  A decorative 'picture-book' painting at first glance (and the artist also used the same model as the Madonna),  but Zurbaran has given it great depth of meaning once you look more closely.   

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