King Ludwig III of Bavaria ("Bayernthaler") with Colored Illustrations of Bavaria in the First World War, Silvered bronze, chromolithographs, by Richard Klein

1914: Then Came Armageddon

Stangel Collection: The War Through Medals

Selection of medals from the Chazen Museum of Art’s Gift from Dr. Andrew Laurie Stangel

The Andrew Laurie Stangel Collection

Art medals are used to commemorate persons or events showcase and memorialize different aspects of history. World War I medals feature battles, leaders, and key symbols from the war.

University of Wisconsin-Madison alum, Dr. Andrew Laurie Stangel donated a collection of late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century medals to the Chazen Museum of Art. These medals were mostly created and designed in Europe and were typically cast in bronze, silver, or iron. The selection of medals below depicts various events from the beginning of World War I. To view the full Andrew Laurie Stangel collection, visit the Chazen Museum of Art’s website. The collection consists of 192 donated objects including the ten objects featured here.

The George L. Mosse Program in History would like to thank the Chazen Museum of Art for its support and collaboration.

The World War I Victory Medal

The United States World War I Victory Medal by artist James Earle Fraser, features the victors of the war. The front of the bronze medal depicts a winged Victory holding a shield and sword on the front. The back of the bronze medal includes “The Great War For Civilization” in all capital letters curved along the top. The staff is on top of a shield that says “U” on the left side of the staff and “S” on the right side of the staff. The Allied nations are also listed, on the left side: France, Italy, Serbia, Japan, Montenegro, Russia, and Greece and on the right: Great Britain, Belgium, Brazil, Portugal, Rumania, and China.

About the Featured Artists

The Andrew Laurie Stangel Collection contains several different medalists and large mint manufacturers from the twentieth century. Munich medalist, Karl Xaver Goetz (1875-1950), designed and produced 59 out of the 192 objects in the Stangel collection. Goetz portrayed international politics through the portrayal of kings, emperors, popes, princes, and presidents. Goetz practiced his art during the first five decades of the twentieth century. He covered events from World War I to the end of World War II as he was an outright propagandist for German nationalism utilizing his medium.

Other artists featured include Arnold Hartig, James Earle Fraser, August Gaul, and K. E. Haas. In addition, Stangel also collected medals from the B. H. Mayer Mint in Pforzheim, Germany, and The Ludwig Christoph Lauer Mint.

The Austrian and German Alliance

Karl Goetz, Austrian and German Alliance, 1914, Bronze, Chazen Museum of Art, UW-Madison, Gift of Dr. Andrew Laurie Stangel, 2010.32.13.
Karl Goetz, Austrian and German Alliance, 1914, Bronze, Chazen Museum of Art, UW-Madison, Gift of Dr. Andrew Laurie Stangel, 2010.32.13.

Chancellor Prince Bernhard von Bülow of Germany pledged his complete allegiance to Franz Josef and Austria-Hungary prior to the outbreak of World War I in a speech to Parliament. During his speech, Bülow coined the term “Nibelungentreue” to underline the loyalty of these allies as he stated its roots were as old and deep as those traditions whose common history the two nations shared. The image of enduring loyalty in the double portrait of Emperors Wilhelm II of Germany and Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary sent to its recipient a powerful message of strength-in-union. Inspired by “Nibelungentreue,” Goetz designed a medal depicting this loyalty. Titled, “Austrian and German Alliance,” Goetz portrayed Franz Josef I and Wilhelm II on the front side of the medal demonstrating the strength of their union. The back side features two soldiers, one Austrian and one German, with the German inscription, “Ich hatt einen Kameraden, Einen Bessern Find’st du nit” (“Once, I had a comrade, A better one you couldn’t find!”). Goetz uses the backside to affirm the strength of the alliance.

The Spark of World Conflagration

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Serbia triggered the outbreak of World War I. As the central theme in Goetz’s Sarajevo, “The Spark of World Conflagration,” he depicts the catalyst event of World War I through an anti-Russian and anti-Serbian lens. The characterization of the assassins demonstrates Goetz’s allegiance to Germany and its allies. The front shows the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Nikolaus von Hartwig, paying Serbian conspirators for the assassination of the Austrian Archduke. The conspirator receiving the money holds a pistol at his side. The back of the medal caricatures a bomb-wielding assassin approaching Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The inscription on the edge reads, “Der Funke Des Weltbrandes.”

Similar to Goetz, Austrian medalist Arnold Hartig (1878-1972) commemorated the death of the Archduke. Hartig takes a simplistic approach, depicting the profile of the Archduke only and leaving the backside blank. The inscription on the edge of the commemorative medal contains the Archduke’s birth and death dates: 18 December 1863 – 28 June 1914.

German Propaganda through Medaling

Verdun as the World’s Blood Pump

The Battle of Verdun began on 21 February 1916, and concluded on 15 December 1916, becoming the longest battle in modern history. German Chief of General Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, had promised his emperor to “bleed France white” and he kept his word in Verdun. The French lost 377,000 men and the Germans 330,000. The town remains a symbol of war’s destructive force and the slaughter of a generation.

Falkenhayn’s contribution to the war was cast into iron by a German medalist, Walter Eberbach, Verdun as the World Blood Pump. On the medal’s front, a skeletal image of Death dominates a bleak landscape and pumps the last flush of blood from the fields of the fallen. The back features the inscription, “Dem General Petain und seinen hilfe völkern aus aller welt, 1916” (“To General [Philippe] Pétain and his allies from around the world, 1916”) This interprets Chief Falkenhayn’s words and message to the French general in charge of the Verdun campaign, General Pétain. Eberbach mocks Petain by suggesting he had the world’s help at Verdun and could not win, as seen in the names of General Pétain’s supporters amidst oozing droplets of blood on the rim of the medal.

Using similar motifs as Eberbach, Karl Goetz also chose to memorialize the horrors of the Battle of Verdun. The front of Goetz’s Verdun contains apocalyptic imagery to the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, also known as the Black Death. The front presents a twentieth-century “Dance of Death” or Totentanz in which a skeletal image of Death drags a helpless victim to the grave. The victim is the personification of France, “Marianne.” The back shows an olive branch crossed by a burning torch, and a caricature of French Minister of War, Georges Clemenceau, appears on the head of a stick pin that pierces the heart of France, crowned by Marianne’s revolutionary Phrygian cap. The text reads, “and quietly flows the Rhine.”

Lastly, French Medalist Émile Séraphin Vernier depicts the Battle at Verdun as a triumph for the French. Unlike the German medals with grave images of death, the French medal depicts a helmeted female figure identified as Marianne clutching a sword in her right hand with the inscription “on ne passe pas,” meaning “they shall not pass.” The back features the Porte Chausée or the road gates to Verdun standing tall and triumphant despite the atrocities committed. The date inscribed, 21 February 1916, denotes the start of the battle. Today, Verdun remains a symbol of the French resistance and the destructive force of war.