Queen's new coin portrait: Second-rate sculpture makes her look characterless

This coin marks the slow, grinding continuation of the Reign of Dullness.

The Queen’s head has been re-fashioned on coins by artist Jody Clark (can you see that tiny JC tucked just in beneath where the neck ends?) for the first time in almost two decades, and this time it has been done digitally.

Hand-craftsmanship – good enough for Donatello and his like, but clearly not in vogue at Royal Mint today – has ceded place to something much less interesting and much less distinctive in all kinds of ways.

I write of Donatello quite deliberately, and in order to remind ourselves that what we have here is nothing less than a second-rate sample of low-relief sculpture.

The extent to which any craftsman causes their sculpture to rise up from its surface, to be both at one with it and to be a sculpted form quite distinct from it in all its risings, fallings and undulations, is a measure of its success or failure. The fact that any low-relief sculpture is poised on the cusp between two and three dimensions also means that it is maddeningly difficult to do well. Thank God then that the likes of Donatello were often given the job.

And here it has not been done well. Why? For a start, this is the fifth time that the Queen has been reinvented on our coins since her coronation in 1953, but has there been any genuine attempt here actually to respond – to authentically represent or to do justice – to the venerable age she has now reached? None whatsoever.

20-Queen-Coin-EPA.jpg
The new coin marks only the fifth definitive portrait of The Queen to appear in British circulation since her accession to the throne in 1952 and will replace the last change in 1998 (EPA)

This is a piece of blandly generic portraiture, which is neither too young nor too old. It floats somewhere in mid-stream, failing to give offence to anyone, failing to strike the note of truthfulness. The hair lacks refinement or credible presence. In fact, the detailing is shoddy throughout.

That crown has no real shape. It does not exist as an entirety. It is two or three uprights in juxtaposition with each other. Its gems – she is wearing her Royal Diamond Diadem crown by the way – look like crude, globby studs. There has been no attempt to give shape to her hair above the crown. A sop has been thrown in the direction of ageing in the form of a few crows’s feet at the eyes, but little else. Why is the Mint afraid of letting her look her age?

And so here we have her: solidly mumsy, pleasant enough, utterly characterless.

Compare this queen with many of the representations of Queen Victoria which embellished coins throughout her reign. Some of those were dull or blandly idealised, but others were works of real merit, complete with marvellously finicky detail. Her hair in all its variety came alive – her profile, often sharply defined, bore a credible looking nose.

This one marks the slow, grinding continuation of the Reign of Dullness.

Comments