Although the presence of a broad range of factors is required
before a medallic tradition can be established in any particular place, it is
self-evident that an absolute prior necessity is the existence of an artist who
makes the medals. Medal-making technical facilities and patrons who commission
and buy may be vital, but the particular characteristics of the medal mean that
its introduction into a society has generally been as a result of an initiative
on the part of an individual artist. In Italy in the fifteenth century it was
Antonio Pisano, known as Pisanello, who made the earliest medals, portraying the
lords in whose courts he was employed and signing his works 'Pisanello, the painter'.
In Germany, it was Albrecht Dürer; in the Netherlands, it was another painter,
Quentin Matsys. More recently, the global mass-migrations of the twentieth century
have resulted in cast medals being made in far-off continents, and again the presence
of individual artists - of Andor Meszaros in Australia and Dora de Pedery-Hunt
in Canada, to give two examples - has been of vital importance.
The medal's virtual absence in Bulgaria over many centuries was one of the by-products of much larger historical processes. But that the Bulgarian medal has now begun to thrive is to a great extent due to one artist, Bogomil Nikolov - who, like some of his illustrious forebears, was a painter before he was a medallist. The Renaissance artists who made medals developed the art form by drawing on the coins of classical antiquity as well as on more recent medieval traditions. Without a native medallic tradition, Nikolov turned to the medals of other countries - of Russia, where he studied in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, countries in which the medal thrived - and from these sources and his own vision created something that was completely new. He has now been making medals for over three decades and his oeuvre is extraordinary. Just as importantly, as a teacher Nikolov is introducing a new generation of artists to the possibilities of the medium, thereby increasing the likelihood that the art of the medal will remain alive in Bulgaria and that a long-lasting Bulgarian medallic tradition will be established.
Coincidentally, at the time that Bogomil Nikolov was making his first medals in the 1970s, British artists were also waking up to the medal. Britain has a strong medallic tradition stretching back to the seventeenth century, but in the decades following the Second World War this tradition had stagnated. That the situation is so very different nowadays is largely a result of the activities of the British Art Medal Society (BAMS), founded in 1982 to promote the art of the medal. Throughout its long history the medal in Britain has often been reinvigorated by artists coming from abroad, and from its inception the Society, recognising that Britain had much to learn from other countries, was eager to foster international relations. The work of Bogomil Nikolov has accordingly been the subject of several articles in The Medal, the Society's journal, and when in 1998 it was decided to extend the BAMS Student Medal Project to include an art college, it was to Nikolov's department at the Academy of Art, Sofia, that the Society turned. This year has seen the launch of another BAMS initiative, aiming to encourage British artists who have recently left college to continue making medals, and the Society is once again collaborating with Nikolov, enabling a young British artist to study with him in Bulgaria.
The merit of Bulgarian medals has also been recognised at the British Museum. It is now exactly twenty years since, in October 1985, the Museum acquired its first modern Bulgarian medal - Bogomil Nikolov's Self-portrait medal of 1981, which he had shown at the exhibition of the Fédération de la Médaille (FIDEM) held in 1985 in Stockholm. Nowadays medals by Nikolov predominate in the British Museum's Bulgarian medal collection, but other medallists are also represented, and their number is growing. This development is largely thanks to Bogomil Nikolov, the teacher.
Nikolov's achievement, both as an artist and as a teacher, has been phenomenal. Thirty years ago the Bulgarian art medal was virtually non-existent, whereas now, because of his activities, Bulgaria is firmly established within the international medallic community. This is a transformation of historical significance. Long may these activities continue.