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Nobel diplomas: unique art for beautiful minds

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At awards ceremonies each December, Nobel prize winners receive their share of each nearly million-dollar prize, a gold medal and an original work of art. Now it’s time to unveil various art projects related to the Nobel Prize.
«inuentas aut qui uitam excoluere per artes»

«inventions enhance life which is beautified through art»

The Aeneid
The Swedish Academy has always used individual designs related to each Laureate. The artists have tried to summarize something of the atmosphere and character of each author’s works. The Nobel artists find out alongside the public who the winners are each year, so they have just a few weeks to create their works of art.
Diploma of 2016 Nobel winner in Literature Bob Dylan.

Artist: Jens Fänge Calligrapher: Annika Rücker
Today each Nobel diploma is a unique work of art. The Literature diploma is written on parchment, i.e. specially treated leather, using largely the same technique as those of medieval book illustrators. The diplomas given to the other Laureates are produced on specially ordered handmade paper.
Diploma, 1931. Art and calligraphy: Bertha Svensson Piehl.
The artistic design of the diplomas has varied over the years. Very often, these diplomas are characterized by an annual theme — birds, flowers, vases etc. — rather than an individual design referring to the Laureates.

The 1949 Diploma of William Faulkner

Diploma of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn​,
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1970 ​

Artist Gunnar Brusewitz
Calligrapher Kerstin Anckers

In Birger Christofferson’s book Gunnar Brusewitz, the artist provides a description of the diploma he made for Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978):
«The diploma is dominated by a Star of David, whose six tips point toward characters and events in Singer’s books. The pictures in the upper left portion were inspired by „The Magician of Lublin“. A parrot appears there, but can also symbolize the bird that flies away with people’s sins. Beneath it, a couple of rabbis with a Torah roll and ritual ram’s horn. Next to it, Jacob in „The Slave“, living in captivity as a cowherd.»
«The bottom portion of the diploma is based on „Satan in Goray“, with its wild ecstatic atmosphere in anticipation of Shabbetai Zvi — the false „Messiah.“ The flower symbolizes the recovery of Goray from devastation. And above it, New York rises as the never-realized paradise for tormented Jews. To the right, the pogroms of the Nazi era.»
Diploma of Joseph Brodsky​, The Nobel Prize in Literature 1987. Artist Gunnar Brusewitz. Calligrapher Kerstin Anckers

The certificate for 2009 Peace Prize winner Barack Obama,
with original artwork by Per Fronth

Bertha Svensson Piehl (1892−1962), Kerstin Anckers (1931−2012), Susan Duvnäs and Annika Rücker are all calligraphers who have done many of the diplomas hanging on the walls of Nobel Prize winners around the globe. The prestigious prizes' diplomas are still being hand made by calligraphers.

Kerstin Anckers

Photo: Herbert Lindgren,
Stockholm Stadsmuseum

Diploma, 1969. Artist: Gunnar Brusewitz, calligraphy: Kerstin Anckers.
Diploma, 1971. Art by Gunnar Brusewitz, calligraphy by Kerstin Anckers
In 1984 the beloved Czech national poet Jaroslav Seifert was awarded the Nobel Prize. At 83 years old, he had a rich production behind him. The picture on the diploma was dominated by symbols of love and peace, against the backdrop of beautiful, ravaged Prague, his adored home city.

Diploma of Camilo José Cela,
Nobel Laureate in Literature 1989

Artist: Bo Larsson
Calligrapher: Annika Rücke

Bo Larsson describes his art work for the 1989 Literature diploma awarded to Camilo José Cela as follows:

«The black color seemed a given: the blackness of Goya and Picasso. So I painted the whole parchment black — or almost black. A few drops of white in this black, so that the completely black pupils I would later paint would stand out clearly and intensively. The eyes would belong to Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of Hades. I made the whites of his eyes red; he holds people in the grip of his red claws and bites them with red teeth. I then exposed the scene by sprinkling sand between the dog and the people. The sand swirls around these figures, providing a vision of movement.»
Diploma, 2000. Artist: Nils G Stenqvist. Calligraphy: Annika Rücker.

Artist: Håkon Gullvåg
Calligrapher: Inger Magnus

This image was produced by artist Susanne Jardeback & calligrapher Annika Rücker
Here is the one, created by the famous graphic designer and sculptor Nils G. Stenqvist (1934−2005).

It was made especially for Peter Agre — Nobel prize for chemistry in 2003 and represents his discovery of the cellular water channels.
Below are some other examples of works of art that have embellished the diplomas in the past ten years.
From left to right:

Ingegerd Möller for Irwin Rose — Nobel prize in chemistry 2004; Jordi Arkö for John C. Mather — Nobel prize in physics 2006

Ulla Kraitz for Albert Fert — Nobel prize in physics 2007; Lena Cronström for Dan Shechtman — Nobel prize in chemistry 2011

Susanne Jardeback for Peter Higgs — Nobel prize in physics 2013

Diploma of Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2007

Artist: Rolf Nerli
Calligrapher: Inger Magnus

Susanne Jardeback made collages for the 2013 physics laureates Peter Higgs and François Englert. They theorized the existence of a particle called the Higgs boson. So, Jardeback asked another scientist to describe how she could represent the subatomic particle.

«She said it’s not easy to describe it easily,» Jardeback says. «It’s very, very hard, but you could try to do something with a Mexican hat.»

In other words, if you graph the behavior of the Higgs boson, that graph looks something like a sombrero. So, she incorporated that image into her collage.

«And in the background," she says, «I could use some sky that was holy» — holy, because the Higgs boson is also known as «the God particle.» That nickname inspired a color palette of midnight and aquamarine blues with highlights of celestial gold.

A closeup of Susanne Jardeback’s work on the certificate for 2013 physics laureate Peter Higgs --€” a collage inspired partly by the divine, and partly by a sombrero.

Swedish painter Hasse Karlsson created three two-tone watercolors of figures in dark overcoats, bathed in light spilling from storefront windows and streetlights, for the Japanese scientists credited with inventing blue LEDs.
The certificate for 2014 physics laureate Isamu Isamuakasaki, with original artwork by Hasse Karlsson
The certificate for 2014 Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, with original artwork by Ruth Elisiv Ekeland.

2016 Physics Laureate Michael Kosterlitz’s Nobel Diploma

Science, literature and peace are recognised — but why is there not a Nobel prize for art? So how about it, Nobel prize?
Why not recognise visual art alongside literature?
There are plenty of artists whose work tends «in an ideal direction».
Source/Photo credits:
Title illustration: 2016 Diploma by artist Willibald Storn and calligrapher Inger Magnus