When the Olympics were giving out medals for medal making

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In terms of the Vince Lombardi trophy, Stanley Cup, and NBA championship ring, the Olympic medal could be the most cherished reward in any sport. Whether gold, silver or bronze, this award for athletic performance has been coveted since its introduction in 1896. After all, it is not just a regional award, but the best in the world.

And for some select recipients, this reward was not for athletic achievement. It was for the arts. And especially for three men that meant getting a medal for design – a medal.

From 1912 to 1948, art competitions were an integral part of the Olympic Games. In categories such as architecture, painting, sculpture, literature and music, the participants competed for Olympic history. Usually, given the nature of the event, it was required that they had a sporting theme. (Professional artists were not allowed in, otherwise Pablo Picasso would have led the table.)

In 1924 and 1936, a total of three men received the award for designing medals. Not for the games themselves, but for artistic purposes.

At the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924, the French sculptor Claude-Léon Mascaux received a medal for his multiple medals. Mascaux created Cadre de Medailles, a collection of animal-themed sports medals that won the bronze in a mixed sculpture category open to all types of sculpture including busts. Mascaux’s medals featured figures representing wrestling, general athletics, jumping, running, gymnastics, swimming, and aviation.

From 1936, medal designers no longer had to compete with sculptors – the two were divided into different categories. The Italian artist Luciano Mercante won a silver medal in Berlin – gold was not awarded – for Medagliere, a collection of four medals in wrestling, rowing, running, and high jump. Mercante also dealt with coins and small metalwork throughout his career.

The bronze medal that year was won by Jozuë Dupon, a Belgian sculptor who was recognized for his six equestrian medals. (Dupon was apparently known for his ability to make a good horse.) Oddly enough, Dupon received his medal posthumously, a rare feat for any Olympian. He died in 1935.

Both the medals and a number of the submitted works of art were poorly documented, so that little is otherwise known about them. But we know that both Mercante and Dupon have seen their work from a large number of people; More than 70,000 spectators visited the art exhibition in the four weeks it was shown in Berlin this year.

Art competitions were relegated to exhibitions after 1948, in large part due to the lack of professionals and the reluctance of some art judges to award medals to works they deemed unworthy, which was their right then. Today, art medals are not included in the total number of medals for countries.



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