Sunday, August 02, 2009

Review: Design for Dishonour

Earlier today I went to see the excellent Medals of Dishonour exhibition at the British Museum. Well worth taking a look if you're in the are in the area.

Essentially it is a collection of medals from down the years made in order to dishonour the object of their ire.

So, for instance, there were two medals that had been made in Holland that depicted Cromwell and Fairfax (one medal each) as a devil and a fool respectively when you turn it upside down. Apparently they were not keen on the break up of 'universal monarchy'. I guess they had to get used to it.

Usually satirical they often show that the sensibilities of those in the past were not so delicate as we sometimes imagine. The image of a finance minister defecating coins will stay with me for some I suspect although I'm sure Steve Bell would have liked it.

I got the impression that in many ways these medals, which would have been easy to distribute and required little literacy to understand, were the forerunners of newspaper cartoons. Indeed the styles were often very similar.

As a rhetorical device awarding some Minister a medal for services to the English (when that notable was French) is both funny and effective. Despite the ribald nature of many of the exhibits I can't remember the last time I enjoyed myself so much in a museum, and I quite like them as a rule.

Do go see the exhibition, it's one room full of jolly and entertaining politics from the past, plus its entirely free. Not to be sniffed at!

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