Karel Zeman

Karel Zeman

(7. 12. 1949)

The work of the leading Czech artist Karel Zeman is admirable not only because of its scope. Whether you think of his postage stamps, engravings or book illustrations, his works always captivate by their perfect craft execution in which beauty combines with wit. These attributes apply also to Zeman’s work on medals. The restricted nature of the bas-relief represents a dimension which allows his sense for detail, composition and also for action to stand out remarkably. A native from Brno, Karel Zeman, loves history, in particular the period of the Napoleonic Wars. This lifelong interest has brought him to a membership in a club of military history and together with this club he takes part in battle re-enactments all over Europe. He has been interested in numismatics since childhood, not only did he collect coins but he also made tin castings of his own ideas. At the age of eighteen he made a medal featuring Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and the mint in Kremnice actually minted this medal two years later.

Karel Zeman studied the School of Arts & Crafts in Brno and then he enrolled at the College of Applied Arts in Prague. The artist lives and works in Prague.


What is closer to you graphic arts or medals?
It is convenient when I can switch between the two activities. It prevents you from falling into some kind of stereotype. Medals and postage stamps are actually miniatures and copperplate engravings are also mostly of small sizes, so in the end they are all similar. The most important thing for me is that the theme must be interesting. Since I was interested in history, historical topics are very exciting for me and I enjoy studying the facts of the periods so that I can make the theme correspond with the reality.

Many of your graphic works radiate a certain polarity which endows them with a dynamics. They very often represent some kind of action. It is similar also in the case of your medals which is not so usual.
It is because unlike other medal designers I am an illustrator, and I therefore often work on themes, usually on the reverses, in the same way as on illustrations. My profession, of course, influences me and I enjoy it, and I also like to continue with the tradition of the Renaissance medals from Jáchymov. They used to transfer motives for biblical mintage from graphic works and I proceed in a similar way today.

None of your last works – the Borodino medallion which was issued by the Prague Mint this year - lacks in dynamics. What original material did you use to make the portrait of Marshal Kutuzov on the reverse side?
I acquired more portraits, because it is always better to use many original materials. I represented Kutuzov as a one-eyed old man who lost his eye in the Turkish wars. On the neck he has a miniature of Tsar Alexander studded with brilliants, because he was not only an excellent general but also an experienced courtier.

Your works relatively often feature a motive from the period of the Napoleonic Wars. This motive was also present on a postage stamp from 2005 and refers to the Battle of Austerlitz. This stamp was also issued in France.
I prepared various medals for the bicentenary of the battle and I was lucky that I also made the postage stamp which was issued in both Czech and French versions. When I received a letter with this stamp on the envelope from my friends in Paris, it was a very pleasant feeling.

Another artworks prepared by Karel Zeman