The Art of the Coin in Cross-Cultural Perspective






Coins as objects of design and aesthetics serve purposes that are different than those of any other objects of art. A series of external factors influence their design: conservatism and traditionalism, legal regulations, monetary economy, and political and religious representation, as well as technical and industrial skills. Coins thus reflect society and economy. After studying these parameters, the students will look into different major global developments: the Hellenistic-Roman world and its two major offspring, the Western aesthetics of coins and that of the Islamic world. Islamic civilization abandoned almost any iconographic representation of humans and objects as the dominant design and made coins as bearers of texts—up to 150 words on one coin—unique in the history of coinage. They serve as political and religious textual documents bearing a message parallel to the political content of the Friday prayer. In China, money developed in a quite different, more abstract vein. Symbols of everyday tools were exchanged, such as "knife and spade" coins. In the period of the first Chinese emperor in the 3rd century BCE, the cast coin with two or four characters and a square hole in the middle was finally developed and this remained almost unchanged until the 20th century. 3 credits.