Each Nobel diploma is a unique work of art where the design is decided by the prize-awarding bodies. The literature diploma is written on parchment, i.e. specially treated leather, using largely the same technique as those of medieval book illustrators. The diplomas given to the other laureates are produced on specially ordered handmade paper.
The artistic design of the diplomas has varied over the years, but the text has always followed the same pattern in the Swedish and Norwegian languages, respectively. The “Swedish” diplomas largely carry the same text, stating the person or persons to whom the prize-awarding body has decided to present the year’s Prize plus a citation explaining why. The Norwegian diploma, on the other hand, has never included a Prize citation.
The Nobel relief on the Physiology or Medicine diploma is made of leather, attached to the diploma. After extensive preparations, the bookbinder then mounts the diploma in a leather cover made of the highest quality goatskin. Nowadays the Physics diplomas are mounted in a blue leather cover, Chemistry and Physiology or Medicine in red, Economic Sciences in brown and Literature in the color that the artist has chosen. In addition, the calligraphers have designed special gold monograms for each of the Laureates on the outside of the diplomas, which are also found on the boxes in which the diplomas rest. These diploma boxes are all made of gray woven paperboard, lined inside with pigskin suede. The size of the Nobel diplomas is 23 x 35 cms.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible for the Physics (examples above) and Chemistry (examples below) diplomas, and since 1969 also for the Economics diploma. The diplomas are very often characterized by an annual theme – birds, flowers, vases etc. – rather than an individual design referring to the laureates. Since 1988, the diplomas from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences have been hand-lettered by the well-known calligrapher Annika Rücker.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet is responsible for the Physiology or Medicine diploma. During the years 1901-1964, the Physiology or Medicine diplomas were decorated with art works. Since 1965 the artistic decoration of the Physiology or Medicine diplomas has consisted of a gold medal in relief and a handsome calligraphic text that since 1990 have been hand-lettered by the calligrapher Susan Duvnäs.
The Swedish Academy is responsible for the design of the Literature diploma and they have almost always used individual designs related to each laureate. The artists have tried to summarize something of the atmosphere and character of each author’s works. Sine the laureates are not announced until mid-October and the diplomas must be ready before 10 December, the diploma artist has only a few weeks to summarize the collected works or personal attributes of each author.
In 1986, the first African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature was Wole Soyinka of Nigeria. His diploma imparts a genuine feeling of throbbing rhythms, magic rites and the struggle for liberation.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for the design of the diploma presented to the laureates of the Peace Prize. Until 1990, the Norwegian diplomas were individually designed related to each laureate.
Here you can find a complete register of all the artists and calligraphers.