The Nobel Prize – the ultimate engraved award

The Nobel Prize – the ultimate engraved award

The Nobel Prize was established by Alfred Nobel in his third will and testament dated 27th November, 1895. With opposition to the legacy from his family after his death in 1896, it was not until 1901 that the first prize was awarded. The will explains Nobel’s wishes that the majority of his estate be used for:

‘Prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.’

The medals awarded to Nobel winners have changed slightly since 1980. Up until then, they were made from 23-carat gold and weighed approximately 200 grams, measuring 66 millimetres across. They are now made from 18-carat recycled gold and weigh 175 grams, except for the medal for Economic Sciences, which weighs 185 grams.

The awards carry a number of Latin and other foreign language inscriptions, but what do they mean?

Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes

The above words are inscribed on four of the medals, the awards for Physics and Chemistry, for Physiology or Medicine, and for Literature. The literal translation is ‘inventions enhance life which is beautified through art’’ Designed by Erik Lindberg, the medals each have a different design for each discipline.

The first for Physics and Chemistry represents Nature and depicts the goddess Isis emerging from the clouds. She holds a cornucopia and a veil covers her face, which is held by the Genius of Science. The award for Physiology or Medicine sees the Genius of Science with an open book on her lap. She is collecting water to quench the thirst of a sick girl. The prize for Literature shows a young man under a laurel tree, listening enchanted, and writing the song of the Muse. Each would have the Nobel Laureate’s name engraved on the front plate beneath the figures.

Pro pace et fraternitate gentium

The Nobel Peace Prize, designed by Gustav Vigeland, is inscribed with the above inscription, which literally translated means ‘For the peace and brotherhood of men’.

A portrait of Alfred Nobel adorns the face, as on all the other medals, though in a slightly different pose. The reverse side depicts three men in a fraternal bond. The winner’s name is engraved around the edge of the medal.

Kungliga Vetenskaps Akademien

Presented in the memory of Alfred Nobel, and with this inscription round the edge that translates as ‘The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’, is the medal for Economic Sciences. Designed by Gunvor Svensson-Lundqvist, the reverse side shows the emblem of the Academy of Sciences, the North Star. On the face, is a portrait of Alfred Nobel, but with the crossed horns of plenty of The Sveriges Riksbank underneath. Like the Peace Prize, the Laureate’s name is engraved around the edge. This prize is not part of the five described in Nobel’s will, but is instead awarded in his memory.

The dizzy heights of a Nobel Prize may be out of reach to the majority of people, but the values and standards set by the award and Alfred Nobel’s ideals are to be admired. Plaques, trophies or glass awards are all symbols of the goals we set ourselves.

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