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The wedding of St George



Dante Gabriel Rossetti


12 May 1828 - 09 Apr 1882


Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the main intellectual force behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), formed in 1848, which during its brief existence affected a revolution in British painting. The important members were Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais. Ford Madox Brown never became a member of the PRB, but acted as mentor and supporter.

The true Pre-Raphaelite period was brief, lasting from the formation of the brotherhood in 1848 until its effective disbanding in c.1852. The movement retained a certain consistency until c.1865, but after this its importance was mainly through its influence on a new generation of painters.

Rossetti exhibited only two oil paintings during the PRB period. Discouraged by adverse criticism he turned almost exclusively to painting in watercolours. It was in this medium that he produced a series of highly imaginative works based on literary and historical subjects, most commonly set in the middle ages.

Between 1861-62 Rossetti designed a series of six stained glass windows for the firm William Morris & Company depicting scenes from the legend of St George and the dragon. The six window panels are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The cartoons are in the Birmingham City Art Gallery.

Rossetti was subsequently inspired to make meticulously worked-up watercolours after two of the original drawings: 'St George and the dragon' 1863 (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford), and this work 'The Wedding of St George' 1864.

In the central archway behind a stone parapet St George and Princess Sabra embrace. Directly below them, laid out on a large platter is the bloodied sword and grisly trophy: the head of a slain dragon. Two trumpeters frame the scene symmetrically.

In a letter to the picture dealer, Ernest Gambart (12 April 1864) Rossetti wrote: "I had some slight doubt as to this drawing suiting you, it being a Wedding of Saint George... I thought perhaps your discouraging experience of the dragon might have frightened you off the saint altogether. Nevertheless, I believe this drawing might please you, being one of the best I ever did, full of cheerfulness and very brilliant, I think, in colour and completeness...".

The composition recalls medieval manuscript illuminations. The claustrophic space and insistent two-dimensionality are innovatory for this period in British art and would deeply affect later artists such as Burne-Jones.

Not only is the work unusually colourful, it is also extremely well preserved. Rossetti's early water-colour technique involves the use of a dry opaque watercolour probably bound with gum. The paint is built up, and in places scratched back, to give a depth and intensity uncommon in the medium. This work retains all the brilliance and jewel-like intensity which were admired in Rossetti's early watercolours by contemporaries such as Ruskin.

Part of the appeal of the work is also in its personal subject matter. Rossetti depicted himself as St George. Elizabeth Siddal is shown as Princess Sabra (the watercolour dates from two years after her death). Rossetti's sister, Christina, appears as the queen, and his brother, William Michael, as the king.




Media category


Materials used

watercolour and bodycolour with gum and scraping out over traces of pencil


29.0 x 35.3 cm image; 31.2 x 38.4 cm sheet; 47.0 x 53.5 x 2.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l., "DGR [in monogram] 1864".


Purchased with funds provided by John Schaeffer 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Works in the collection


Shown in 11 exhibitions

Exhibition history


Emily Ebbs Williams, 1864-1912, England, presented to Emily Ebbs Williams by her husband RH Williams as a wedding present, by bequest to her sister Lady Gosse in 1912

Ernest Gambart, 1864, London/England, [dealer] probably with Ernest Gambart

Lady Gosse, 1912-1928, England, by bequest, sister of Emily Ebbs Williams

G.P Dudley Wallis, 1928

Kerrison Preston, 1940

Beaux Arts London, 1940, London/England

Newman, 1953

Jerrold Northrop Moore, 1958-circa 1964, New Haven/Connecticut/United States of America, in the collection of Moore until at least 1964

Alister Matthews, 1958

Macmillam & Perrin Gallery, Vancouver, post 1964-pre 1978, Vancouver/British Columbia/Canada, dates unknown

Stuart Pivar, 1978

Hirschl & Adler, New York, 1998, New York/New York/United States of America

Hirschl & Adler, New York, pre 01 Dec 2003, New York/New York/United States of America, Purchased by the AGNSW from Hirschl & Adler 2003

Private Collection, pre 01 Dec 2003, United States of America

Referenced in 20 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 2004 [for the year ended 30 June 2004], Sydney, 2004, p 12.

Maris Teresa Benedetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Florence, 1984, pp 243–44, no 215, illus p 244 (illus.).

Oswald Dougherty and John Robert Wahl (Editors), Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Oxford, 1965-1967, vol 2 (1861-1870), pp 501–02.

Herron Museum of Art, Indianapolis, The Pre-Raphaelites: a loan exhibition of paintings and drawings by members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their associates, 1964, no 62, illus.

Carol Jacobi and Lucina Ward (Editors), Love & desire. Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from the Tate, Canberra, 2018, p 43.

Joseph A Kestner, Masculinities in Victorian painting, Aldershot, 1995, p 118.

J. Maas, Victorian painters, London, 1969, p 141, illus p 141.

Debra N Mancoff (Editor), King Arthur's modern return, Cha, p 6, New York, 1998, p 87.

Wilfred Meynell (Editor), The modern school of art, vol III, London, 1886-1888, p 222.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Lost paradise: Symbolist Europe, 1995, no 364, illus.

John Nicoll, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, London, 1975, p 127, illus pl 77.

Kerrison Preston (Editor), Letters from Graham Robertson, 1953, p 440.

Kerrison Preston, Blake and Rossetti, London, 1944, p 52, illus p 52.

Peter Raissis, Look, 'Enter Dante Gabriel Rossetti', pg.9-12, Sydney, Apr 2004, pp 9–12: pp 9, 12, col illus cover (detail).

Royal Academy of Arts, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: painter and poet, 1973, p 53, no 209.

Virginia Surtees, The paintings and drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882: a catalogue raisonné, Oxford, 1971, p 87, no 150RI.

The Maas Gallery, London, Victorian paintings, drawings & water-colours, London, 1971, no 103.

Poets and painters, New York, 1997, pp 50, 78, col illus p 4.

La era victoriana. Un siglo de pintura Británica, Mexico City, 1997, p 214, no 59, col illus p53.

Important British paintings, watercolours and drawings, London, 14 Jun 2001, pp 82–85, no 31, col illus pp 83, 85 (detail).