British Museum explores World War I experience through eyes of German medalists

Art highlights brutality, realism of war effort
By , Coin World
Published : 05/24/14
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A new exhibit at the British Museum tells the story of Germany’s World War I experience through medals.

“The other side of the medal: how Germany saw the First World War” was launched May 9 and is one of many centenary commemorations of the outbreak of World War I. 

The new exhibit displays medals made by artists who lived and worked in Germany between 1914 and 1919. 

“Challenging and at times deliberately provocative, a number of these medals were intended to influence popular opinion against Germany’s enemies,” according to the British Museum. “Others, however, provide a more universal criticism about the futility of war and waste of human life.”

Though enthusiasm for the war was initially high, it waned as the scale and brutality of war grew. 

Death a constant motif

Reflecting upon this, German medalists revived the medieval Dance of Death motif to present an almost apocalyptic view of the conflict. 

“Death stalks the battlefield, sea and the sky on such medals, hacking down soldiers, sinking ships or manipulating giant Zeppelin airships,” the British Museum press release noted. 

The figure of Death “becomes an active malevolent presence and indiscriminate force of destruction.”

Elsewhere, recent movements such as Expressionism were a powerful influence on the design of medals. 

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