The great seal of the Commonwealth was adopted by the Virginia's Constitutional Convention on July 5, 1776. Its design was the work of a committee composed of George Mason, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and Robert Carter Nicholas. George Wythe was probably the principal designer taking its theme from ancient Roman mythology.
The seal makers did not want a design which in any way resembled the style of coats-of-arms used in Britain. Because of the strong admiration for
the Roman Republic felt by the Virginia leaders, the design of the new seal was taken from the mythology of Ancient Rome. They also chose a two-sided
design, as shown below.
The original design was never properly cast and a
number of variations came into use. Attempting to legislate uniformity, the General Assemblies of 1873 and 1903 passed acts describing the seal in
detail. In 1930, a committee was named to prepare an "accurate and faithful description of the great seal of the Commonwealth, as it was intended to
be by Mason and Wythe and their associates." The committee set forth the official design in use today, which is essentially the design adopted by the
Virginia's Constitutional Convention of 1776.
The obverse side of the great seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus representing the spirit of the Commonwealth. She is dressed as an Amazon, a sheathed sword in one hand, and a spear in the other, and one foot on the form of Tyranny, who is pictured with a broken chain in his left hand, a scourge in his right, and his fallen crown nearby, implying struggle that has ended in complete victory. Virginia's motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis (Latin for "Thus Always to Tyrants"), appears at the bottom.
On the reverse side of the seal are the three Roman goddesses, Libertas (Liberty) in the center holding a wand and pileus in her right hand, Aerternitas (Eternity) with a globe and phoenix in her right hand, and Ceres (Fruitfulness) with a cornucopia in her left hand and an ear of wheat in her right. At the top is the word Perservando (Latin for "by Persevering"). A border of Virginia creeper encircles the designs on each side.
Official colors were established by the Art Commission in 1949 and a water color, the only official model for flag makers and stationers, hangs in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The Secretary of the Commonwealth is designated by the Code of Virginia as the keeper of the great seal. The great seal of the Commonwealth is affixed to documents signed by the governor and intended for use before tribunals and for purposes outside the jurisdiction of Virginia.
§ 1-500. The great seal.
The great seal of the Commonwealth shall consist of two metallic discs, two and one-fourth inches in diameter, with an ornamental border one fourth of an inch wide, with such words and figures engraved as follows: On the obverse, Virtus, the genius of the Commonwealth, dressed as an Amazon, resting on a spear in her right hand, point downward, touching the earth; and holding in her left hand, a sheathed sword, or parazonium, pointing upward; her head erect and face upturned; her left foot on the form of Tyranny represented by the prostrate body of a man, with his head to her left, his fallen crown nearby, a broken chain in his left hand, and a scourge in his right. Above the group and within the border conforming therewith, shall be the word "Virginia," and, in the space below, on a curved line, shall be the motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis." On the reverse, shall be placed a group consisting of Libertas, holding a wand and pileus in her right hand; on her right, Aeternitas, with a globe and phoenix in her right hand; on the left of Libertas, Ceres, with a cornucopia in her left hand, and an ear of wheat in her right; over this device, in a curved line, the word "Perseverando."
(Code 1950, § 7-26; 1966, c. 102, § 7.1-26; 2005, c. 839.)
§ 1-501. The lesser seal.
The lesser seal of the Commonwealth shall be one and nine sixteenths inches in diameter, and be engraved with the device and inscriptions contained in the obverse of the great seal.
(Code 1950, § 7-27; 1966, c. 102, § 7.1-27; 2005, c. 839.)
§ 1-503. Uses and tax on great seal.
The great seal shall be affixed to documents, signed by the Governor, which are to be used before tribunals, or for purposes outside of the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth; and in every such case, except where the Commonwealth is a party concerned in the use to be made of the document, the tax imposed by § 58.1-1725 on the seal of the Commonwealth shall be collected and accounted for by the Secretary of the Commonwealth.
(Code 1950, § 7-30; 1966, c. 102, § 7.1-30; 2005, c. 839.)
§ 1-504. Uses and tax on lesser seal.
The lesser seal shall be affixed to all grants for lands and writs of election issued by the Governor; to all letters of pardon and reprieve; to all commissions, civil and military, signed by the Governor, and to all other papers, requiring a seal, authorized to be issued by the Governor for the purpose of carrying the laws into effect within the Commonwealth; and also, when deemed necessary by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, may be used by him as an authentication of his official signature. No tax shall be imposed on the use of such lesser seal, except upon commissions appointing notaries, and commissioners in other states for taking acknowledgments, and upon certificates of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, when, at the request of the parties desiring such certificates, the seal is attached. In all such cases the tax shall be the same as upon the great seal, and shall be collected and accounted for in the same manner.
(Code 1950, § 7-31; 1966, c. 102, § 7.1-31; 2005, c. 839.)
§ 1-505. Seals deemed property of Commonwealth; unauthorized use; penalty.
The seals of the Commonwealth shall be deemed the property of the Commonwealth; and no persons shall exhibit, display, or in any manner utilize the seals or any facsimile or representation of the seals of the Commonwealth for nongovernmental purposes unless such use is specifically authorized by law.
Except for the authorized commercial use of the seal as provided in § 2.2-122, any person violating the provisions of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $100, or by imprisonment for not more than 30 days or both.
(1966, c. 102, § 7.1-31.1; 1995, c. 295; 2005, c. 839.)