The beauty and artistry of the Britannia coin pretty much speak for itself but to get an even greater sense of the image we sat down with the designer of the 2019 design, artist David Lawrence. Having also designed the 2018 reverse design, it's not surprising that he has a good sense of who and what Britannia is.
"Britannia is something of a landmark"
David Lawrence has been an illustrator and sculptor for 36 years, working in a number of areas, including oil painting. In recent years he has found himself drawn to projects of historical significance: reconstructions, museum spaces and coin design. Perhaps this is partially the influence of Bath – the city he calls home having moved there in 2017 from Somerset.
"The bright lights of this wonderfully historical jewel of a city hold more allure, in my declining years, than rustic remoteness," he joked.
Designing the reverse images for the 2018 and 2019 Britannia coins simultaneously, David first spent some time looking at how Britannia has been interpreted over the years, both to get a sense of context and, more practically, to avoid repeating previous ideas.
"I saw that the designs in recent years have had quite a contemporary feel," he said. "So, wanting to be different, I thought it might be interesting to explore a more traditional route. I have always loved the iconic [William] Wyon Britannia of 1817 and Pistrucci's St George and the dragon from 1817 [Pistrucci's image remains an emblematic feature of the annual Sovereign coin]. I also had in mind [John] Flaxman’s elegant designs for Wedgwood Jasperware: lovely flowing forms based on Greek bas relief carvings."
All these influences led David to consider Britannia from the point of a classical Greek carving. Gathering together imagery of helmets, lions and shields for inspiration, he also recruited some help from family.
"My step-daughter was cajoled into standing on the coffee table, wrapped in a bedsheet, holding a broomstick while I clicked away with my camera, ordering her around and forcing her into various noble and heroic poses," explained David. "From there it was simply a case of working through the permutations of what worked and discarding what didn’t. I thought that two main lines might be worth exploring: a full figure and a close up of a head. I think I produced about 10 finished designs in all ... In a way it’s a shame that so much work remains unused but really that's the nature of design and the only way to get to a good result."
"I thought that two main lines might be worth exploring: a full figure and a close up of a head."
In looking at David's design, we noticed that Britannia seems to be facing east, ostensibly toward the dawn. We asked David if this was intentional, and whether it had a particular meaning.
"Britannia faces east because of Wyon's design," he explained. "I think subconsciously that seemed to be the only natural pose to me. Why did he choose this aspect? Perhaps Britannia is facing the dawn, the rising sun, the new horizon and all that is to come? Or am I reading too much into it?"
Nonetheless, David said he enjoyed being able to contribute his interpretation of this centuries-old British icon.
"It was a very enjoyable job," he said. "Also, of course, a great honour. One gains a certain 'immortality' in having one's work used on a coin design, and there are no designs more prestigious than for a Britannia."
Since The Royal Mint struck the first Sovereign in 1489, the gold coin has survived retirement, rebirth and reform to become a modern classic with a unique legacy.