Author Topic: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King  (Read 2490 times)

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Offline brokencompass

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Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« on: July 28, 2011, 10:23:51 PM »
An Engraver is a person who creates a design by making grooves in metal. For coins to be struck, an engraver creates a portrait and then using a reducing machine dies are created for minting coins. It is not a simple process and takes considerable amount of time. Back then, it took a few months to a few years to create a portrait for a coin.

Benedetto Pistrucci is well known as an artist/ engraver/ medalist and was famous for his work. He is very well known for his work St George slaying the dragon which is featured on gold sovereigns. He designed it during the 1800's and it is still used in coins that are struck by the mint and is even present in bullion coins that are minted by local Indian jewellers.



Pistrucci had a temper that did not allow anyone to criticize his work and that even included king goerge IV of England. He worked as a chief medalist and engraver at the royal mint in London. He had engraved portraits for the coinage of King George IV, the year that he became the king. The portrait was accurate, perhaps too accurate which made the king increasingly irritated.

This is the coin issued right after George IV became the king. You will notice that his face is fat and doesn't look very fit. The king had no choice but to let them use the portrait to issue coins even though he did not like it.



In 1822, 2 years after the king ascending the throne, ordered Pistrucci to scrap the current portrait and create one for his liking. George IV considered himself a man of great taste in matters concerning the arts and did not take well Pistrucci's refusal to co-operate and create a portrait to his liking. The king suggested that he create a portrait created by Francis Chantrey in which he was potrayed as fit. When Pistrucci refused, the king had to bypass the chief engraver Pistrucci and asked William Wyon a junior to Pistrucci to create a portrait from Chantrey's work.

Here is a coin issued with William Wyon's design where the fat 220 pound king turned fit and better to look at.



P.S : I was inspired to recreate an article that I had read a few months ago. I couldn't find it online so I had no choice but to recreate it by redoing research so I could share it with the forum.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2014, 09:41:10 AM by eurocoin »
My goal for 2012 is to finish at the top of the NGC registry in the British India 1/4 anna and 1/12 anna categories. Any help with BU 1/4 annas and 1/12 annas is highly appreciated.
https://coins.www.collectors-society.com/registry/coins/MySets_Listing.aspx?PeopleSetID=130880

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2011, 02:26:09 AM »
Pistrucci was indeed a hothead. Another example of his temper is the portrait for the double sovereign. In 1823, Pistrucci refused to work on it, because he was instructed to use a model by the sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey. He claimed that it was beneath his dignity to copy the work of another artist. The work was done by his protegé Johann Baptist Merlen instead.

To understand the girth of George IV, visit Brighton Pavillion if you get a chance. There, you will find a menu for a dinner for the state visit of Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. It lists not three, not four but 120 dishes from his celebrity French chef Antonin Carême. The Prince Regent told Carême: "You will kill me with a surfeit of food. I have a fancy for everything you put before me. The temptation is really too great." Carême replied: "Your Highness, my concern is to stimulate your appetite by the variety of my dishes. It is no concern of mine to curb it."

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline UK Decimal +

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2011, 06:10:16 PM »

I always understood that the first (British) use of a reducing machine was for the coins of Edward VII.   Perhaps there was a version of it about a century earlier - might be a good subject for another topic.

I have never been impressed by Pistrucci’s work as I find it too flamboyant, but this appears to have been his nature.   Others applaud it, so I accept their views also.   Perhaps the question is whether a coin should depict a Monarch as he/she really is, or whether an “artist’s impression” should appear.

Pistrucci’s “St George and Dragon” design is, to me, over-ostentatious, particularly when used on large coins such as the crown.

For the portrait of George IV, my choice is the one that Peter mentioned, used on the 1823 £2 or Double-Sovereign and produced by J B Merlin from the model by Sir Francis Chantrey.   In my mind, it is even better than the William Wyon version.   This was the only obverse by Merlin, although some of his reverses are spectacular - I particularly like his halfcrowns for William IV which depict a “crowned shield on mantle”.

Back to Pistrucci.   Regarding his stated dislike of plagiarism, I read in Money in Britain (C R Josset, 1971):

The origin of the St George design can be traced to a shell cameo “Bataille Coquille” in the Duke of Orleans’ collection, which displays a Greek horse and rider.   The substitution of St George for the rider was made and adapted by an Italian employee of Brunets Hotel, Leicester Square - long since demolished - where the forty-year-old Pistrucci stayed after being brought to England by the Prince Regent in 1814.

Make of that what you wish!

Bill.
Ilford, Essex, near London, England.

People look for problems and complain.   Engineers find solutions but people still complain.

Offline brokencompass

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2011, 07:21:16 PM »
People sure draw their inspiration from everything. Sometimes the same design or story or portrait no matter how original gets more attention when retold by someone famous like Pistrucci than my a hotel employee :) Particularly in that day and age when people couldn't publish their work on the internet for the whole world to judge and appreciate..

About the reducing machine, I read that Pistrucci got or made a reducing machine during the days of George IV, it was his private possession though. When he refused to use Chantrey's design the mint bought another reducing machine so that they could do it themselves.
My goal for 2012 is to finish at the top of the NGC registry in the British India 1/4 anna and 1/12 anna categories. Any help with BU 1/4 annas and 1/12 annas is highly appreciated.
https://coins.www.collectors-society.com/registry/coins/MySets_Listing.aspx?PeopleSetID=130880

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2011, 08:13:16 PM »
I know that story and I have severe doubts. The sources is Wroth, a contemporary biographer of engravers. Pistrucci receive much criticism in London. Forrer says that it was mainly because he was a foreigner: "Pole offered Pistrucci the post of Chief engraver. The appointment was resisted by the moneyers (the corporation of the Mint), and for several years Pistrucci was attacked and calumniated in the "Times" and other newspapers, chiefly on the ground of his foreign origin. "Among Pistrucci's chief opponents were Mr. Hawkins, the Keeper of Coins and Antiquities at the British Museum, and Nicholas Carlisle, Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries. The artist's works were described as having a scratchy appearance, and of wanting in boldness ; he was reported to have cut the steel matrices by means of a lapidary's wheel, and practically accused of extorting money from the Master of the Mint. Carlisle's aspersions were refuted by W. R. Hamilton (William Richard Hamilton, vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries), who broke friendship over the quarrel."

Pistrucci was of course a child of his time. Classical art was fashionable and so were (preferably, but not necessarily, naked) gents on horses in funny positions. There are paintings of Napoleon very much like the St. George Pistrucci made. However, it would be unfair to Pistrucci to say he copied this or that work. He merely made what was fashionable. Of the St. George, Forrer says: "The jasper George and the Dragon, purchased by Wellesley Pole for the coins, was an original, and not the cameo, or wax model, which he had made previously for a 'George' to be worn by Earl Spencer, K. G. The design was considerably modified, and the St. George was modelled from life, the original being an Italian servant in Brunei's Hotel."

There is more to another story. Pistrucci wanted his family to come over to London, but the Mint refused to pay for the removal. Pistrucci got paid for a die never used so he could move his family. Forrer has most of the story: "To remunerate him in lieu of engraving gems, the Master of the Mint hit upon the expedient of ordering the Waterloo Medals, as an extra work, for the execution of which it was agreed that he should be paid three thousand, five hundred pounds sterling, the sum of two thousand pounds being advanced to him by instalments within a short time (Billing, The Science of Gems, Jewels, Coins, and Medals, Ancient and Modern, London, 1875, p. 193)

The Waterloo medallion, the dies of which were never hardened. though impressions in soft metal and electrotypes were taken and sold to the public, far excelled, according to Pistrucci's own published account, anything ever attempted in that way both in its magnitude (4 1/4 inches in diameter) and likewise in the number of the figures introduced.King states that it had been originally the intention of the Mint to present a copy in gold to each of the princes who shared in the triumph, and in silver to the minor satellites ot their glory. Tempora mutantur. The dies lie in the Mint Museum."

Actually, the Mint realised it did not have the equipment to strike the medal. This may explain why the dies were never hardened.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2011, 08:26:51 PM »
Forrer decribes Pistruccis method as follows:

"Pistrucci was very fond of showing his mode of working, which may be described at follows. He first drafted a design of the future die he intended to engrave, then made a model in a preparation of white bees-wax. He afterwards spread this wax upon a piece of glass or slate, adding and working in successive portions until the design was completed to his satisfaction.

When the human figure had to be reproduced, he represented it first in a nude condition, to secure a natural and correct rendering of the postures and relative measurements of the individual parts; afterwards the needful draperies and other accessory embellishments were added and worked over.

Such models were made upon a scale that afforded a design of larger size than the die which was intended to be engraved. They were plotted into squares of equal measurements, and so transferred with accuracy direct, to the metallic surface.

(...)

The originality of this process (which has since been adopted by medallists) was disputed at the time by John Baddeley (Mechanics' Magazine, XXVII, 401), who claimed that it had been practised fifty years before by his grandfather at the Soho Mint; but Pistrucci's claim was defended by William Baddeley (ib., XXVIII, 36) and others (cf. Num. Journal, II. inf.; Num. Chron. I, 53, 123 f. 230 f.) ". The real inventor of the first Reducing machine was Hulot, in 1766, and his invention served as a pattern to all the later appliances of the same kind."

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2011, 09:39:24 PM »

     Here is an interesting history of reducing machines.

Bill.
Ilford, Essex, near London, England.

People look for problems and complain.   Engineers find solutions but people still complain.

Offline villa66

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Re: Benedetto Pistrucci: The Engraver who defied the King
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2011, 02:23:22 AM »
...Pistrucci’s “St George and Dragon” design is, to me, over-ostentatious, particularly when used on large coins such as the crown....

I got tickled when I read this. Is this as iconoclastic as it sounds, or is this often heard in British collecting circles?

Thanks for the images of the two copper coins, brokencompass; very nice.

 ;) v.