ERIK LINDBERG, CREATOR OF THE NOBEL MEDAL
The year was 1901. Five years after the death of inventor Alfred Nobel, the prize he instated was finally being awarded to those who had "conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". With the prize would come a medal with a portrait of Alfred Nobel and it was set to come in three variants, one for the Swedish Academy of Sciences (physics and chemistry), one for Karolinska Institutet (medicine or physiology) and one for the Swedish Academy (literature).
The contract to manufacture the medals was to be awarded a Swedish artist, the academies agreed. Adolf Lindberg who was an engraver at Kungl. Myntverket (the Royal Mint authority) was approached, but he instead suggested his son Erik who at the time was studying medal engraving with the great masters in Paris. Thus the task to create Sweden's most famous medals came to be placed in the hands of a 27-year-old. Continued below...
Erik Lindberg at his desk.
When Erik Lindberg received his father's letter with the new in January 1901 he had his bags packed for a field trip to Italy. He understood the importance of the assignment for the prestigious Nobel medals, but worried that there was not enough time to get them ready for the award ceremony on December 10. He did not want to make a rush job, if there was not enough time he would turn down the contract.
Erik Lindberg at the secretary of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Rather than hiring a foreign engraver, the academies agreed to hand out provisional medals to the first Nobel laureates in 1901 and Erik Lindberg left for Italy with his honoring assignment. From Rome, inspired by the statures of the Vatican, he sent his first sketches. On the back sides of the medals, the academies had requested different motifs, seals and emblems. Erik parted from that completely.
In spite of his youth Erik Lindberg was very gifted and knowledgeable in medal crafting. His was not only skilled in modelling the human shape but also in history and latin to be able to make allegoric scenes describing the purpose of the medal. The portrait of Nobel did not pose a challenge, but wasting the back sides on simple emblems would convey a poor impression in his opinion.
A months long letter exchange ensued between Erik Lindberg from his various bases in Europe and the Swedish Academy secretary Carl David af Wirsén in Stockholm, who had to merge the opinions and responses from the three academies. Erik argued well for his points of view, and one after the other the academies abandoned their initial positions in favour if his series of allegoric figures from ancient mythology with a modern touch.
However, this did not stop them from having all kinds of opinions and objections. The Academy of Sciences believed that nature should be embodied by a female figure instead of a male, a Karolinska Institute anatomist protested that the goddess of health had a too long upper leg, and at the Swedish Academy it was considered too sensual when a muse kissed Apollon on the forehead. In one letter to his father, Erik complained that they were "too irremediable back home".
The lengthy discussion on the sketches prevented Erik from getting started in the workshop. Eventually he had to leave Paris and personally motivate his suggestions the the academies in Stockholm. After presenting the possibilities of the modern art of medals he was finally met with understanding. The medals were minted the following year.
The press praised the result. "The young artist has with these noble creations from his graver honored not only himself but also the schools in which he was trained" Svenska Dagbladet wrote. Thereby Erik Lindberg had made a name for himself as an artist and engraver and immediately received new orders from near and far when he returned to Sweden.
The now world famous Nobel medals are todat produced by us at Svenska Medalj AB in Eskilstuna, Sweden, and they still have the same design that the then 27 year old Erik Lindberg gave them in Paris in 1901.
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