Va. AG Cuccinelli Opts for More Modest State Seal

May 3, 2010

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is opting for a more modest depiction of the state's seal.

The seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus wearing a blue tunic draped over one shoulder with her left breast exposed. But on the new lapel pins Cuccinelli recently handed out to his staff, her bosom is covered by an armored breastplate.

Workers in attendance when the new design came up at a staff meeting said Cuccinelli joked that it converts a risque image into a PG one. But the joke might be on Cuccinelli, 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."

Cuccinelli has found himself at the center of political controversy numerous times since taking office in January. The conservative Republican was ridiculed on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" in March after advising state colleges and universities they lack the legal authority to protect gay employees from discrimination.

Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said the attorney general has pointed out the "more modest attire," saying the rendition "harkens back to an older version of the seal." The pins were paid for by Cuccinelli's political action committee, not with taxpayer funds, Gottstein said.

The Great Seal of the Commonwealth is a two-sided image that dates to 1776. But multiple varieties of the seal have been used over the years, said State Capitol historian Mark Greenough.

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.

The modern version is based on language added to the state code in 1930. It 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, but declined to offer an opinion on Cuccinelli's interpretation.

When Virtus was fighting Tyranny, Polarek said, "a dress code was probably not her first concern."

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