Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Musings on 18th Century Portraits and Coins

 Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the "First Georgians" exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace Mews. It was an enjoyable (if slightly disjointed) display that left me faintly frustrated. However, to dwell on the positive, two portraits on display in the first chamber inspired me to write today's blog post. 

The first portrait was of Queen Anne, whose death in August 1714 paved the way for the "first Georgian", George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, to ascend to the English throne. As much as anyone can, living in such elegant splendour, Queen Anne had a tragic life marked by 17 pregnancies, none of which provided a healthy living heir. 
The portrait of Queen Anne
I found the portrait of this somewhat matronly lady, who yet lacked a brood of children, somehow moving. And it put a new twist on the picture when I read it was painted to provide a likeness for coinage. 

Gold coins in circulation during Queen Anne's reign
Indeed, the next portrait was of her successor, King George I - and again, this picture was used to mint coins bearing his likeness. The painting was executed by Sir Godfrey Kneller and was intended to show the new king in regal glory as "Defender of Faith". 

Portrait of King George I
The results of this were on display in a separate cabinet

Is it just me, or is the coin more flattering
than the painting?
OK, there you have it, my favourite objects from the exhibition, which leads me neatly onto some Royal Mint trivia. 
From 1300 to 1812 (encompassing the period when Anne and George's coins were minted) the Royal Mint was sited within the curtain wall of the Tower of London, in Mint Street
The Tower of London with the Shard in the background.
Behind this outer wall lay Mint Street
The houses built into the outer wall that once made up the Mint, are called the Casemates. In the 18th century coal and precious metals were stored there, are well as housing the machinery for making coins. In the present day they are now home to the Yeoman Warders and and their families. 
The view on the other side of the wall.
Looking down Mint Street at the Casemates

One of the most famous Wardens of the Mint was Sir Isaac Newton (famous for his theory on gravity) who held the post for 28 years from 1696. 
Standing beside the Casemates looking inwards to the Tower
Sir Isaac's job was to investigate cases of counterfeiting and it was he moved the currency standard from silver to gold in 1717.

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