One of the highlights of the 2020 Trial of the Pyx was the presence of the two-kilo and five-kilo editions of the Una and the Lion 2019 UK Gold Proof Coin. Every eye in the room was drawn to these magnificent pieces due to the thrill of seeing such a large amount of gold but, as with all products made by The Royal Mint, these coins are worth much more than their monetary value.
The real joy in the Una and the Lion coin is in taking in the tremendous artistry that has been applied in creating these remastered editions. The design that features on the coin is one of the most highly regarded in the history of numismatic art, coming from one of The Royal Mint’s all-time greats: William Wyon RA.
Wyon was Chief Engraver at The Royal Mint from 1828 until his death in 1851. Known for his artistry and skill, Wyon was able to make use of what were at the time modern minting techniques to dramatically move forward the standards of numismatic art. His Una and the Lion design remains one of his crowning achievements.
The story of Una and the lion dates back to the sixteenth century and Edmund Spenser’s poem ‘The Faerie Queene’. Una, a young princess, undertakes the challenge of freeing her parents from a dragon that has imprisoned them. On her journey she encounters a lion who is so charmed by her beauty and fairness that he decides to become her protector. The poem inspired a number of works of art by British artists, including William Bell Scott’s pre-Raphaelite Una and the Lion painting. Wyon’s work interprets Una as a young Queen Victoria. Here, Una is a more knowledgeable princess and the lion is as much a subject as a protector. Una’s hand is gently placed on the lion’s mane, as if she is leading or guiding him, and the power of the lion is clear in the detail of the design.
Almost 200 years on, the modern minting processes in use today are beyond anything Wyon and his contemporaries could have imagined and allow for even greater precision, accuracy and clarity. In 2019, The Royal Mint invested tremendous time, energy, dedication and love into remastering Wyon’s work, bringing it to life in a contemporary work that pays tribute to his mastery and is testament to both Wyon and The Royal Mint’s dedication to quality and accuracy.