News & Notes

Q&A with Chiara Principe

Published March 14, 2024 | 5 min read

By Louis Golino

This is the third installment in Golino’s series of interviews with coin designers and medallic sculptors.

Chiara Principe is an acclaimed Italian artist, sculptor, and coin designer from Rome. She studied sculpture, coin, and medal making at her hometown’s famous School of the Art of the Medal. She launched her career as a finalist in a 2007 Japanese Mint design competition with a project on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol.

Since 2013, Principe has worked as a freelance coin designer for several major world and private mints. Her work has appeared on the coinage of many countries. Principe is best known for her numerous coins, medals, and stamps for Vatican City and the Republic of San Marino since 2012. 

Her designs often celebrate feminine beauty and deal with themes such as women, children, families, and the earth. They are widely admired for their originality, dynamism, versatility, and whimsicality.  

Since 2019, Principe has worked for Powercoin in Italy. Her Evil Within series began with her groundbreaking Pandora’s Box piece issued for Palau in 2019. She has also designed coins that feature dark takes on children’s stories like Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. Since 2020, she has created designs for the East India Company (EIC) in London. They include a neoclassical platinum jubilee piece for the late Queen Elizabeth II with two elegant female figures. Her most recent work includes her latest Angel coin, 2-euro coins issued in January by Luxembourg, and a Lunar Year of the Dragon round and bar for Asahi Refining. 

Louis Golino: How do your designs express your values and perspective as a woman, a mother, and a citizen of the planet?

Chiara Principe: Congratulations on asking the best question I have ever received about my work! I want to pass it on to those who follow my work. I’d be curious to know their perceptions of me based solely on my designs. 

Coins I design on commission rarely express my personal values. However, I’ve realized that I communicate my aesthetic in many ways beyond choosing subjects and themes. My search for balance and harmony, which first takes place in my relationships and in the world that I try to build day by day, is reflected in my designs. They feature a gentle, harmonious, and curvilinear style. The final composition should be as elegant and peaceful as possible. 

My designs aim to depict a welcoming, warm, and balanced place where the viewer can stay and enjoy the harmony of each element. This reflects my way of being a woman, preferring the search for beauty in every aspect of my life, and certainly my way of being a mother, attentive to the care of everyone and every detail.

LG: Which two designs are your personal favorites?  

CP: I’m emotionally attached to Little Red Riding Hood from my Fear Tales series. It was my first modern numismatic coin, which paved the way for my Pandora’s Box coin. 

One coin I’m particularly proud of is the Platinum Jubilee Coin, which I designed for the East India Company (EIC) in 2022. Composing these pieces was a challenge due to the different symbolisms I had to represent in a classic, elegant, but not anachronistic style. Last year, I was very happy to see it set in the center of the magnificent crown coin commemorating the 70th anniversary of Elizabeth II’s coronation. This record-breaking “coin of coins” consists of over 3kg of gold and 6,000 diamonds! A 1kg gold version, surrounded by thousands of diamonds and 10 other 1-ounce gold coins, was also produced.

LG: I always enjoy seeing your new designs for the EIC’s Angel series. What’s the story behind your latest installment?

CP: The Angel series is inspired by a fascinating late 1700s legend linked to a gold coin depicting a standing angel: the French gold 20 franc with the “Lucky Angel.” Designed by the famous French engraver Augustin Dupré and minted between 1871 and 1898, these coins have had a long and legendary history. 

The Paris Mint produced these “Lucky Angels,” so named because Dupré escaped the guillotine by bribing a guard with one of these gold coins. The story became a legend, and many across Europe, including Napoleon Bonaparte, kept one of these coins with them as a good luck charm. According to tradition, Bonaparte lost the coin the day before he was defeated at Waterloo! 

EIC wanted to refer back to this legend in a modern way with the prestigious Lucky Angel series, which I had the honor of designing. This year’s coin depicts the angel in profile, seated in a very romantic pose, holding the spark of luck, ready to hand it to those who welcome it. The thick wings accompany and almost frame the composition, together with the rich drapery of her dress.

LG: What does it mean to you to be an Italian designer of coins for Vatican City and the Republic of San Marino? Do you see yourself as an ambassador for Italy when you design these coins? 

CP: The Vatican City and the Republic of San Marino are two governmental entities separate from the Italian state. At the same time, they are geographically and culturally rooted in our country. As an Italian citizen, I have never felt this distance. I have never seen myself as an ambassador of different values because we have more in common (starting with the Catholic faith) than not. 

All my clients are located outside my national borders. Your question made me reflect on how, despite being Italian, I have never felt like an ambassador of my country on a nationalistic value level, but perhaps only in terms of cultural and historical aspects.