St George and Dead Soldier - Scott Norwood Witts

On display at St George's from 18 January 2010 (coinciding with the Archbishop of Canterbury's visit) until 18 March was a painting of St George expressing his multicultural and pacifist character. The artist writes about this work:

My painting of St George and Dead Soldier [left; detail right] has been stimulated by the deployment of British Forces overseas and the historical misrepresentation of St George. A native of Palestine, the patron saint of soldiers, England and numerous other countries is shown battle-fatigued identifying another fatality of war – exploding the contrived mythical identity developed during the Crusades to reveal an international man of sorrows. As a high ranking soldier of the Roman Empire his conversion to Christianity was extremely dangerous, yet it inspired him to put down his weapons and personally confront the Emperor Diocletian over his brutal persecution of the Christian minority. A dissident pacifist, who paid for it with his life.

Religious minority groups and immigrants from different faiths have always made this area of London home and like the original St George, the parish Church of St George-in-the-East has witnessed scenes of religious and cultural persecution. In the 18th century, Protestant Huguenots were the victims; the 19th century saw violent riots over religious ritual; the 1930s witnessed the anti-semitic Cable Street march; and the church itself was blitzed during the Second World War. The area remains religiously and socially mixed, producing some difficult tensions.

Despite this legacy, nearly all the major faith groups recognise St George. In the Qur’an he is identified as Al Khader (The Green One), a mysterious instructor to Moses. In Kerala State, India, he is recognised as the brother of the Hindu Goddess Kali. Most visibly in Palestine, (his place of birth) a remarkable unity between Christians and Muslims occurs when they join together in prayer to revere the saint in the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St George in Lod.

Far from being a symbol of fascism and nationalist extremism, St George is a unifying international and interfaith character, recognised across religious and national boundaries. The parish church of St George-in-the-East in the midst of a diverse community, follows St George’s defiance of persecution and oppression and remains a bulwark of religious freedom and expression.

The painting was originally unveiled at St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark on St George’s Day 2008 and went on to be exhibited at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, many English Cathedrals and the National Memorial Arboretum. It is continuing to tour a number of English Cathedrals in 2010 and will be for sale after the exhibition.

A copy of St George and Dead Soldier is also being produced for St George’s Memorial Church in Baghdad (the only Anglican Church in Iraq) thanks to the support of the resident priest, Canon Andrew White.

Scott Norwood Witts has also exhibited at The American Church in London and the Carmelite Friary in Kent. He has produced altarpieces for Dover Castle and The Royal Garrison Church at British Army HQ, Aldershot. He is currently working on three images of the life and death of Anne Boleyn.

Postcards are available in the church, and prints directly from the artist:

Scott Norwood Witts, The Church of All Saints, Maltby-Le-Marsh, Lincolnshire LN12 OJN

"We welcome the opportunity to show this graphic depiction of the spirit of sacrifice in a sorrowful representation of the patron saint of England, and of soldiers, at this special time of year”.
Stuart Glendall, Director of Communications, The Royal British Legion

This very moving painting says all that needs to be said about the sadness and futility of war. I hope it will be exhibited around the world and so inspire many, not just to regret war, but to work for a world in which we resolve conflicts in the peaceful ways of law, justice and common humanity”.
Bruce Kent, Vice President CCND

This painting struck me as unusual and leaves unanswered questions in the onlooker. We see the strength of character and we also glimpse the human fragility not always associated with the victorious Saint George. The work has a modern feel and brings together many themes associated with St George. I am delighted that we have the opportunity to display the painting at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark”.
Canon James Cronin, Dean, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark

I view and collect art continually, but it is very rarely that you see a picture that speaks into the precise situation that you are in, especially when you live and work in the most dangerous place in the world. Then suddenly there is Scott Norwood Witts Picture of St George. It speaks to every section of our society here in Iraq. To our coalition forces and to our Iraqis. I work with them both. Now we have a strong image of a saint who will protect us, suffer with us but will win. As the priest here in Baghdad of St George’s Church I have a strong vision of hope in a real living image of our saint”.
The Rev’d Canon Andrew PB White, St George’s, Baghdad

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