Great Hours of Anne of Brittany

Great Hours of Anne of Brittany Saint Margaret, f. 205v

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Saint Margaret, f. 205v

Inside a circular space enclosed by an ashlar wall with two grilled openings is Saint Margaret with long, blond hair symbolising her virginity. She emerges from the belly of a large, horned dragon whose green, iridescent body is covered in blood. One of the saint’s knees is still inside the monster’s body, so in fact she is kneeling. She has a nimbus and wears a ruff and full-length gown pulled in at the waist by a golden ribbon with a pater hanging from it. She looks heavenward and holds a crucifix between her hands joined in prayer. Mention must be made of the economy of means and how the imposing figure of the dragon has been depicted coiled up in such a small space which, thanks to the shadow that the saint casts on the wall, helps create a very successful impression of a larger space. Viewers once again have a higher viewpoint that makes them part of the scene. The painting is characterised by the accurate drawing, discreet hues and idealised factions of the saint’s face. The iconography employed in the Great Hours of Anne of Brittany is the saint’s usual iconography – unlike the image and iconography of the saint on f. 3r where she appears with Anne of Brittany – with one of her most common attributes: the dragon that devoured her and from whose belly she emerges holding the crucifix she opened the beast’s entrails with.
The life of Saint Margaret is a fable of Greek origin disseminated in the west by Jacob de Voragine’s Golden Legend. It is a repetition of the tale of the Greek saint Pelagia and Saint Marina. She was the daughter of a pagan priest from Antioch who was converted by her nurse and set to watch over her flocks. Governor Olybrius was attracted by her beauty but when Margaret rejected his advances he locked her up in a dungeon where she was attacked and eaten by the devil in the form of a huge dragon. However, the saint had a crucifix that she used to cut open the monster’s stomach and escape. This fable may have originated in an image that was misunderstood. Like many other saints, she was depicted standing with her hands joined next to a symbolic dragon that she overcame with her prayers. Interference from another theme, such as Jonas being regurgitated by a whale, must also be taken into account. After escaping unscathed from the dragon’s belly, Saint Margaret was tortured several times before finally being decapitated.

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