Ian Hamilton Finlay and Nicholas Sloan, Terror.Virtue, a cast bronze medal

Scotland, AD 1984

The contemporary medal

Ian Hamilton Finlay (born 1925) is one of several leading British artists who, since 1982, have had medals commissioned by the British Art Medal Society, which is administered from The British Museum. The artists all choose their own subject matter. These works have been acquired by the Museum, which purchases medals from contemporary sculptors and metal-workers from all over the world.

Central to Hamilton Finlay's work is Little Sparta, the garden that he has created at Stonypath in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. It contains emblematic monuments which are intended to bear universal messages, though sometimes they are inspired by personal disputes. Many of these are converted into graphic designs and medals. Terror.Virtue, for instance, relates to the 'First Battle of Little Sparta' fought with Strathclyde Regional Council when, for rating purposes, it refused to recognize that an art gallery (formerly a cow byre) had been converted into a neo-classical garden temple with a non-commercial function. In an attempt to raise money for rate arrears, the Council seized works by Hamilton Finlay, including a pair of neo-classical candlesticks labelled 'Terror' and 'Virtue', which were to be sold at auction. Their sale was successfully blocked.

Hamilton Finlay's medal underlines the illegality of the Council's actions, while, more generally, attacking bureaucratic hostility. It was issued with a commentary by the artist explaining the neo-classical style of the two Corinthian columns as a model of cultural action - Jacobin virtue; the guillotine on the front of the medal, a visual 'rhyme' with the columns, symbolizes terror and state oppression.

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Ian Hamilton Finlay and Nicholas Sloan, Terror.Virtue, a cast bronze medal

© 2001 Ian Hamilton Finlay


More information


, 'Ian Hamilton Finlay', The Medal-6, 4 (February 1984), p.27

P. Eyres, 'Ian Hamilton Finlay: emblems and iconographies, medals and monuments', The Medal-1, 31 (Autumn 1997), pp. 73-84


Diameter: 5.200 cm

Museum number

CM 1984.5-73.1



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