Benedetto Pistrucci was born in Rome on 29 May 1784. While working in Italy, he gained a reputation as an outstandingly talented gem engraver. His fame spread far and wide and he was invited to come to England by the Prince Regent, the son of George III.
While he was in London, Pistrucci was introduced to William Wellesley Pole, the Master of the Mint. Pole commissioned him to create designs for the new gold and silver coins of George III. Pistrucci also went on to engrave the coin portrait of the Prince Regent when he became George IV.
However, he is probably best known for his magnificent Waterloo Medal and his St George and the dragon, which was created for the new gold Sovereign of 1817. In fact, Pistrucci’s design of St George was so popular that it was also used for the gold five-pound piece and silver crowns during George IV’s reign.
After creating the medals, Pistrucci chose to make England his home and spent most of the rest of his life here. He died at his home near Windsor on 16 September 1855.
St George and the dragon
Over the ages, St George continued to inspire people. For instance, William Shakespeare ends Henry V’s famous battle speech in the play of the same name with
the words “Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”.
The patron saint also struck a chord with his namesake, George IV. When George IV wanted to introduce a new coin he picked the saint as the coin’s subject. The
new gold Sovereign was created in 1817 and was designed by the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci. His approach to the design was a refreshing change to the
heraldry that had traditionally featured on coins.
Pistrucci created a motif of St George slaying the dragon, and gave him a sense of movement and confidence. St George was portrayed as a naked Greek
horseman, effortlessly keeping control of his horse while fighting the wounded dragon. The coin design has become a classic, and the coin expert Humphrey
Sutherland praised it as one of the noblest innovations in English coin design from 1800 to the present day. Many collectors and historians would agree with him.