Forms and iconography of trench craftsmanship

Forms and iconography of trench craftsmanship

  • The Kronprinz.

  • Set medallion (obverse).

  • Set medallion (reverse).

  • Trench lighter.

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Title: The Kronprinz.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 25 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Carved boxwood

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrettes website

Picture reference: 06-506240 / 20950; Df

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Pascal Segrette

To close

Title: Set medallion (obverse).

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 2.9 - Width 2.3

Technique and other indications: Metal, set.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emile Cambiers website

Picture reference: 07-511092 / 2007.2.65

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emile Cambier

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Title: Set medallion (reverse).

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Metal, set. Inscription: 1916 memory of the 30th.

Storage location: Army Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emile Cambiers website

Picture reference: 07-511093 / 2007.2.65

Set medallion (reverse).

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emile Cambier

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Title: Trench lighter.

Author :

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 6.3 - Width 4.7

Technique and other indications: Engraved brass.

Storage location: Private collection

Contact copyright: © Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emile Cambier

Picture reference: 07-515767

© Paris - Army Museum, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Emile Cambier

Publication date: November 2008

Historical context

Keeping busy in the trenches

Daily life in the trenches or in the camps in the rear is rather monotonous. While waiting for the fight, the hairy people spend the time as best they can: they maintain their equipment, clean and repair their clothes, write, read, play cards, play sports, make small objects ... This last occupation will then take a considerable size in the front line, where the narrowness of the galleries and the need to remain hidden limit activities, and give rise to trench craftsmanship. These artefacts made from common and recycled materials extend existing popular traditions: making a cane, a pendant or a lighter yourself was usual at the beginning of the 20th century.e century. Nevertheless, if the forms and manufacturing techniques of these objects are close to the rural or regional achievements of the time - although they are adapted to the tools and materials available on the front - these works have a particular iconography that reflects the experiences, opinions, desires or ideals of soldiers during the Great War.

Image Analysis

Meaningful collective and individual imagery

Trench craftsmanship presents an iconographic universe which essentially falls into two types: on the one hand, objects which, inspired by the collective and official imagery conveyed by posters, medals, monuments, newspapers, express representations common to the whole of society; on the other, more personal artefacts, which touch on the realm of the intimate. Through traditional or unique iconography, soldiers express their hopes, fears, needs or experience. The caricature of the Kronprinz sculpted on the cane thus takes up the distinctive attributes of the son of William II in the press portraits: emaciated face surmounted by a cap, monocle, prominent nose and receding chin. The skull figured on the bonnet, a trait less often associated with this character but quite common in traditional iconography, can both signify his responsibility in the death of French soldiers - he is presented as an agent of death - or the desire to see him die - he is the target to be killed. The object therefore expresses a feeling shared by hairy people and civilians, while the pendant belongs to the private sphere. It is a souvenir object - the inscription "1916 souvenir of the 30e Specifies the personal meaning attributed to it by its author, while the heart shape suggests that it was intended for a loved one. It also has a function of good luck, the set bullet, which undoubtedly wounded its creator as the epigraph suggests, being the emblem of his luck. The lighter combines collective and individual meaning. It can be seen as a patriotic motif symbolizing the country the soldiers defend or as an evocation of a femininity lacking at the front. The wheat and the vines embody the nourishing earth and the woman fertility, the whole motif can be interpreted as an allegory of the nation, that is to say a reminder of the values ​​for which the hairy fight. However, it can also simply represent a woman in the bath and remind its author of the joys of civilian life, of the family, suggest sexual desire or the envy of a female presence.

Interpretation

What trench craftsmanship reveals

Among the useful or decorative objects made by the poilus (inkwells, writing desks, frames, letter ops, scale models, candlesticks, rings, vases, etc.), other themes are recurrent: the history of war with its battles, places of memory, its leaders and its weapons; the daily life of soldiers; religious beliefs, saints, crucifixes and other pious symbols; patriotic figures such as the rooster, the Lorraine cross or the flags; representations of the enemy and his weaponry; erotic scenes or even traditional lucky objects (four-leaf clover, horseshoe, etc.) or specific to the Great War. The illustrations of the fight are however nonexistent. Each object has its own meaning, which varies according to personal associations, or can overlap several, like the lighter scene. Through the forms and iconography of trench craftsmanship, it is therefore possible to grasp another facet of the First World War, that of the collective and individual mentalities, practices and behaviors caused by the conflict. A part of the intangible history of war is reified in these creations, which thus constitute essential objects of study for the historian.

  • War of 14-18
  • hairy
  • trenches

Bibliography

Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU, Annette BECKER, 14-18, rediscovering the war, Paris, Gallimard, 2000.Annette BECKER, “Graffiti and sculptures of soldiers, traces of war culture”, 14/18 Today-Today-Heute , n ° 2, 1998, p.116-127 [file: “Archeology and the Great War”] .Nicole DURAND, From Horror to Art, Paris, Seuil, 2006. Patrice WARIN, Trench craftsmanship and lighters from Poilus de la guerre 14-18, Louviers, YSEC Editions, 2001, 208p. Pierre VALLAUD, 14-18, la Première Guerre mondial, volumes I and II, Paris, Fayard, 2004.

To cite this article

Claire LE THOMAS, "Forms and iconography of trench craftsmanship"


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