Andy Warhol, ‘Details of Renaissance Paintings (Paolo Uccello, St. George and the Dragon)’, 1984, Sotheby's

This work is stamped by the Estate of Andy Warhol twice and by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., twice and numbered VF **PA36.006 twice on the overlap.

From the Catalogue
“Warhol’s translation of the princess and the dragon’s spikey, spotted wings and corkscrew tail suggests a segment of a comic strip rather than an episode from the legendary life of St. George. Is Warhol showing us that the feats of heroism and derring-do that make up the lives of the saints are now to be found in the comics, that the exploits of Superman and Dick Tracy are this century’s mythology?”
Jane Daggett Dillenberger, The Religious Art of Andy Warhol, New York 1998, pp. 50-52

In 1984, Andy Warhol turned his focus away from his ubiquitous silkscreens of everyday, commercial objects and portraits of Hollywood’s elite to focus his attention on the history of art itself through his series Details of Renaissance Paintings. In doing so, not only did Warhol pay homage to the Renaissance masters, but he also placed himself as inheritor and predecessor of their revered lineage, thus incorporating excerpts of their acclaimed works and drastically expanding the scope of his oeuvre. In the present work, Warhol appropriates Paolo Uccello’s circa 1470 painting Saint George and the Dragon (National Gallery, London) using Day-Glo colors to turn it into a cartoonish Pop painting. In other works from this series, Warhol borrowed imagery from universally recognizable paintings such as Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation and The Last Supper and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. By cropping and distorting the original scale and color palette, Warhol shockingly transformed these familiar Renaissance paintings from the canon of Art History into kitschy spin-offs. Just as Warhol’s silkscreen works from the 1960s radically exalted, yet simultaneously mocked, the commodification of American consumer brands and products, his works from Details of Renaissance Paintings similarly examine and subvert the ways in which we consume artistic masterpieces.

Throughout his Details of Renaissance Paintings series, Warhol applied his Pop art practice of borrowing images from popular culture to appropriate images from famous works of art. As Warhol was formally trained as an artist at the Carnegie Institute of Technology it is not surprising that he turned to these Renaissance masters for inspiration. Also unsurprising, for an artist fascinated with fame and celebrity, his choice of artworks for this series reads like a “Who’s Who” of Western art history. There is certainly an odd irony in appropriating the laborious, detailed and painstakingly painted masterworks by da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael and Uccello and stripping them down to a silkscreen—a mechanical process that essentially removes the hand of the artist. Subsequently, Warhol transforms these works into easily reproducible commodities, subverting not only Uccello’s artistic intention, but the very principles held so highly within art historical tradition. The present work illustrates Warhol’s successful reinvention of history paintings in an effort to depict an important medieval story, which has been told by artists for hundreds of years. His iconic Flowers, debuting in 1962, are Warhol’s take on a landscape painting and the Cow series reflects Warhol’s take on pastoral landscape. These examples along with the present work highlight Warhol’s hyperawareness of the history of art and his place within it.

Warhol crops Uccello’s mythical scene down to the princess’s simple yet stoic profile and the dragon’s all-encompassing spotted wing and enlarges it to 48 by 72 inches, essentially elevating a fraction of this art historical masterpiece into a Pop art model making the original subject matter unreadable. The subtle and darker palette of Uccello’s original painting is replaced by a cacophony of Day-Glo colors that assaults and delights the eye all while making the original subject unreadable. The story of Saint George and the Dragon originates from a popular collection of saint’s lives written by Jacopo de Vorgine in the 13th century, titled ‘The Golden Legend.’ The original masterpiece by Uccello features two episodes from the story of Saint George: his defeat of the plague-bearing dragon that had been terrorizing the city; and the rescued princess bringing the dragon to heel using the belt from her dress as a leash. In the original, painterly details such as the fiercely swirling sky perfectly aligned with Saint George’s lance suggests that divine intervention helped lead him to victory over the majestic dragon. In keeping with early Renaissance stylistic traditions, Uccello is celebrated for his ability to foreshorten objects and figures by using the lance to emphasize the angle from which Saint George attacks the dragon further alluding to a complex three-dimensional picture plane.

From the outset of Andy Warhol’s career, he chose the most universal images of popular culture to replicate in his silkscreened canvases. What was so revolutionary about Warhol’s oeuvre was the shocking familiarly of his imagery; the appropriation and objectification of his subjects emulated the Duchampian notion of fetishizing the banal and bringing it into the realm of Fine Art. In 1919, Marcel Duchamp took a found object; a postcard of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, drew a moustache on her face and scrawled the letters “L.H.O.O.Q.” beneath the image. When spoken in French, these letters sound like “Elle a chaud au cul” or, in English, “She has a hot ass.” This sly maneuver not only degrades the traditionally exalted art historical figure and her creator, but also introduces the overt practice of appropriating artistic masterpieces as ready-mades. In Duchamp's wake, Warhol too viewed culturally resonate icons, figures and paintings such as St. George and the Dragon as ready-mades at his disposal, free to be manipulated and translated into his signature Pop style. Warhol was more prolific during the last decade of his life than any other time in his forty-year career, developing an extraordinary vocabulary of images and techniques that reveal a mature artist in full command of his repertoire capable of taking on any subject matter in his signature Day-Glo glory.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Estate of Andy Warhol
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., New York
Gagosian Gallery, New York
Private Collection, Connecticut
Simon Capstick-Dale Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Andy Warhol

Obsessed with celebrity, consumer culture, and mechanical (re)production, Pop artist Andy Warhol created some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. As famous for his quips as for his art—he variously mused that “art is what you can get away with” and “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes”—Warhol drew widely from popular culture and everyday subject matter, creating works like his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans (1962), Brillo pad box sculptures, and portraits of Marilyn Monroe, using the medium of silk-screen printmaking to achieve his characteristic hard edges and flat areas of color. Known for his cultivation of celebrity, Factory studio (a radical social and creative melting pot), and avant-garde films like Chelsea Girls (1966), Warhol was also a mentor to artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His Pop sensibility is now standard practice, taken up by major contemporary artists Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami, and Jeff Koons, among countless others.

American, 1928-1987, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, based in New York, New York