Italian Gem Engraver Benedetto Pistrucci
Benedetto Pistrucci was born in Rome on 29 May 1784. He came to London in 1815 under the patronage of the Prince Regent. His reputation as a gem engraver of outstanding ability had gone before him and, on his introduction to the Master of the Mint, he was commissioned to prepare designs for the new gold and silver coinage of George III.
Pistrucci engraved the coin portraits of both George III and George IV but is perhaps best known for his magnificent Waterloo Medal and his George & Dragon created for the new gold sovereign of 1817 and adapted for the gold five-pound piece and silver crowns of the same reign.
He remained in England for most of his life and died at his home near Windsor on 16 September 1855.
St George and the dragon
Pistrucci’s interest in St George had been aroused by Lady Spencer to whom he had been introduced by Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society and friend of William Wellesley Pole, Master of the Mint. Her Ladyship showed Pistrucci a wax model of St George and asked him to make another ‘in the Greek style’; Lady Spencer had no time for a figure dressed in gothic armour, a sentiment which could not fail to appeal to a temperamental Italian whose favourite maxim was said to be ‘study Greek originals day and night’.
A Timeless masterpiece
The commission was duly executed and by all accounts it was Pistrucci himself who suggested St George and the Dragon as a suitable subject for the proposed new sovereign. The idea evidently appealed to Pole who agreed that the patron saint of England would undoubtedly prove an excellent and distinctive reverse for the new gold coinage. Thus for a reported fee of 100 guineas, Pistrucci undertook to provide a jasper cameo of St George, taking as his model an Italian servant in Brunet’s hotel in Leicester Square, London. The result is a masterpiece of numismatic art, a coin design combining such grace and dramatic impact that it now ranks as one of the best loved and most enduring of numismatic designs.