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The art behind Nobel citations

Sunday October 31, 2010 12:43:00 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

New Delhi: Writer Dorris Lessing's cats found a way into her Nobel citation! That's because the prestigious awards, instituted in 1901, carry a rich legacy of art that reflects the recipient's persona, says artist Annika Rucker who has designed 200 such citations since 1988.

"I have to handcraft nine citations by December. Each citation requires careful research about the category in which the prize is being awarded, the subject of the work and the recipient's life," Rucker, a master calligraphist, told IANS in an interview here.

She is in the capital to show off her art during the India-Sweden Nobel Memorial Week.

"The citation for each discipline has a special colour. While the physics citation is in blue handmade leather, the prize for chemistry is crafted in red. The economics citation is a combination of beige and brown leather," said Rucker, part Swedish and part Austrian by birth.

She has handcrafted the citations for Nobel laureates Amartya Sen, V.S. Naipaul, Venkataraman Ramakrishna, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Jose Saramago, Gunter Grass, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pahmuk, Nadine Gordimer and Harold Pinter, to name a few.

"Writer Doris Lessing rears cats at home. While designing her monogram, I read about her life and created a monogram with a cat's face and her initials," said Rucker.

The citation, a work of calligraphic art in itself, bears a painting by an eminent Swedish artist conveying the implication of the prize, the sentiments associated with it and the persona of the recipients.

The prize is awarded in six disciplines every year - literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and peace. Each citation is handcrafted by a calligraphist who works with four artists in Sweden to create them.

The citation carries the name of the recipient, the legend associated with the prize, the discipline, year, artistic monogram of the recipient and the date on which the prize is conferred, Rucker said.

"I design citations together with leading Swedish artists, the Nobel Committee, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and leading bookbinders in Sweden who bind the citations into leather covered volumes," she said.

The artist, who has trained in the art of calligraphy from the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna, is now busy crafting citations for this year's Nobel laureates. The prizes will be conferred in Stockholm Dec 10.

Rucker said the process of crafting the citation is time-consuming.

"I design the monogram first on a sheet of white paper with calligraphic ink and goose feather quill. The monogram has to capture the personality and the physical appearance of the recipient. Once the monogram has been approved, it goes to the bookbinder who makes an alloy (copper and bronze) mould and embosses the monogram on a vellum (soft goat skin) front jacket of the citation, designed like a book," she explained.

The cover over, Rucker starts on the calligraphic text that adorns the inner cover of the citation.

"I source the manuscript (the draft of the message) from the Academy of Sciences and make a rough template. The process is manual. Even the space between the lines is calculated by the naked eye," Rucker said.

The calligraphy - in Swedish - is inspired by Latin letters and the script is stylised and curly. "It takes me nearly two days to complete one citation," she said.

Post-lettering, the artist transposes a painted composition on the flap facing the citation. "The motifs are primarily sourced from nature and from the works of the respective Nobel recipient," she said.

In Rabindranath Tagore's citation, the art work in water colour is a complex composition of two flying birds with decorative wings, flowers, waves and curling green fronds. According to Rucker, it "captured the essence of his poetry and songs".

"French professor and litterateur Jean Marie Gustave La Clezio spent several years with American-Indians in the Amazonas province in northern Brazil. Just before designing the monogram for his Nobel citation, I met an Indian from the Amazonas.

"He was dressed in Indian clothes and I was struck by the feathers on his headgear. I designed Le Clezio's initials like two overlapping Indian feathers. He liked it," Rukcer said.

An exhibition of Rucker's Nobel citations is on display at India Habitat Centre.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at




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