Royal Mail’s Christmas issue, released on November 7, has two distinct elements, as it did in 2013.

A set of eight has various depictions of the Madonna & Child after old paintings, available from self-adhesive counter sheets (and booklets) and a gummed miniature sheet as usual.

A further set of four, available in self-adhesive guise only, features the two winning designs from a children’s competition, which attracted more than 200,000 entries. These were selected from a short-list of 24 regional winners, in two age groups, by the Prince of Wales.

The issue was designed by Royal Mail Group, based on a concept by Kate Stephens. The classical paintings selected are said to take their inspiration from a renewed emphasis on the intimacy between Christ and his mother, which became popular in western Europe in the late Middle Ages.

The counter sheets were printed in gravure by De La Rue in sheets of 50. The two different designs for each of the 2nd class, 2nd Large, 1st class and 1st Large values were printed in mixed sheets, comprising an upper pane of 25 of the religious design and a lower pane of 25 of the children’s design.

The miniature sheet was printed in gravure by International Security Printers.

 

MADONNA & CHILD

2nd class

Detail of Virgin & Child, attributed to the Dutch painter Gerard David (c1460-1523), housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

2nd Large

Larger detail of the 2nd class design

1st class

Detail of The Madonna & Child by the Scottish painter William Dyce (1806-1864), housed in the Royal Collection.

1st Large

Larger detail of the 1st class design

£1.17

Detail of Virgin Mary With Child, attributed to the Flemish painter Quinten Matsijs (c1466-1530), housed in the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Madrid, Spain.

£1.40

Detail of The Small Cowper Madonna, by the Italian painter Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, better known as Raphael (1483-1520), housed in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA. The 19th-century name of this painting reflects the fact that it was once part of the collection of a British aristocrat, Earl Cowper.

£1.57

Detail of The Sleep Of The Infant Jesus by the Italian painter Giovanni Battista Sassoferrato (1609-1685), housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

£2.27

Detail of St Luke Painting The Virgin by the German painter Eduard Jakob von Steinle (1810-1886), housed in the Royal Collection.

 

CHILDREN’S DESIGNS

2nd class

Snow Family by Arwen Wilson, aged 9, from St Chad’s Catholic Primary School in Dudley West Midlands.

2nd Large

Expanded view of the 2nd class design.

1st class

Santa Claus on his Sleigh on a Starry Night by Ted Lewis-Clark, aged 10, from Oakfield Academy in Frome, Somerset.

1st Large

Expanded view of the 1st class design.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

The presentation pack includes all 12 stamps, with information cards examining the development of Madonna and Child paintings through time and Royal Mail’s history of running children’s competitions to design Christmas stamps.

Stamp cards and first day covers are available as usual.

 

PRICES

Set of 12 stamps  £12.31

Miniature sheet  £9.36

Presentation pack  £12.85

Stamp cards  £5.85

First day cover (stamps)  £15.19

First day cover (minisheet)  £11.65

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   4/5

Christmas issues have half a century of tradition, although 12 stamps seems a lot

QUALITY OF DESIGN   3/5

The classical paintings might be of stunning quality, but Madonna and Child stamps are somewhat passé

WOW FACTOR   2/5

The schoolchildren’s handiwork may get noticed more than that of Raphael!