By Julian Walker
May 1, 2010
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli apparently isn't fond of wardrobe malfunctions, even when Virginia's state seal is involved.
The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus, or virtue, wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder, her left breast exposed. But on the new lapel pins Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff, Virtus' bosom is covered by an armored breastplate.
When the new design came up at a staff meeting, workers in attendance said Cuccinelli joked that it converts a risqué image into a PG one.
The joke might be on him, said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.
"When you ask to be ridiculed, it usually happens. And it will happen here, nationally," he said. "This is classical art, for goodness' sake."
His spokesman, Brian Gottstein, said the pin was paid for by Cuccinelli's political action committee, not with taxpayer funds. He acknowledged that the attorney general has pointed out Virtus' "more modest attire," adding that the rendition chosen by his boss "harkens back to an older version of the seal."
The Great Seal of the Commonwealth is a two-sided image that dates to 1776.
The side depicted on the state flag features Virtus standing victoriously over Tyranny, a male figure prone on the ground in defeat, his crown fallen from his head. Beneath him is the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis: Thus Always to Tyrants.
Three Roman goddesses – Libertas, Aeternitas and Ceres – grace the reverse side of the seal. Cuccinelli isn't the first to have less-revealing garments placed on Virtus.
Multiple varieties of the seal have been used over the years, said State Capitol historian Mark Greenough. The modern version is based on language added to the state code in 1930, which specifies that Virtus is "dressed as an Amazon" while clutching a spear in one hand and a sword in the other.
The secretary of the commonwealth, Janet Polarek, is charged by law with being the keeper of the seal. Asked for an assessment of Cuccinelli's interpretation, she declined to offer an opinion. When Virtus was fighting Tyranny, Polarek said, "a dress code was probably not her first concern."
EDIT: His spokesman may have been being too cute by half about it being an "older version of the seal," except by "older" you can sub in "Civil War-era" -- that version dates back at least to when Virginia had seceded from the union and was using it on its regimental flags:
I'll keep looking to see if this (quite possibly) pre-dates the ~War of Northern Aggression~ but, still, so much headdesking, so little time...