The TU Darmstadt crest

The TU Darmstadt crest

A brief history of Athena at the university

The crest of TU Darmstadt. Image: Patrick Bal
The crest of TU Darmstadt. Image: Patrick Bal

The Greek goddess Athena, having emerged fully armed from the head of Zeus, father of the gods, has been the patron goddess of art and science since ancient times. The throned Athena is the focus of an 1895 group of sculptures on the tympanum of the main building of what was then Technische Hochschule Darmstadt. She is surrounded by allegories of the arts of engineering, architecture, mechanical engineering and natural science.

1945/46: Athena becomes the symbol of the university

After 1945, the university introduced Athena as its official symbol. Prof. Dr. Hermann Geibel, who held the chair in Applied Sculpture and Freehand Drawing, designed a new chain of office in 1946/1947, which was made by Darmstadt goldsmith, Hermann Macholdt, and Erbach ivory carver, Wilhelm Heger. Rector Prof. Dr. Richard Vieweg described the “head of Athena meditating as a symbol of science and humanism (…).” In 1949, Geibel’s Athena became the university’s official decorative coat of arms – insignia of office, means of authentication and symbol of honour. In the following 20 years, the Athena motif underwent several stylistic alterations.

On 23 May 1972, the President, Prof. Dr. Böhme, commissioned senior assistant Walter Wilkes of the department specialising in painting, drawing and graphic art, to initiate the design of a university seal. This led to the creation of what was to become a binding, coherent symbol of TH Darmstadt. Based on photographs of three historical coins, the aim was to re-work the Athena theme and, for the first time, to replace the state coat of arms on the official seal.

1972: Hermann Eidenbenz desgins the crest of TH Darmstadt

The throned Athena is the focus of a group of sculptures on the tympanum of the university's main building. Image: TU Darmstadt
The throned Athena is the focus of a group of sculptures on the tympanum of the university's main building. Image: TU Darmstadt

Swiss graphic artist Hermann Eidenbenz, whose achievements included the design of bank notes for the D-Mark and the Swiss Franc, was responsible for designing the drafts which were approved by the President and Vice-President in December 1972. The image on the seal shows the helmeted head of Athena in profile. The image is surrounded by the circumscription “Technische Hochschule Darmstadt” which was later customised to reflect the various official and institutional titles. What is depicted on the skull piece of the helmet is difficult to interpret. It shows a lion’s head and paws, part of a wing that can be interpreted as a stylised cheek flap or as a wing, and a volute which may represent a fish tail or – keeping a very open mind – could also be a lily. Thus, it might possibly be the depiction of an ancient legendary creature such as a griffin, or winged sea-lion, or a reference to the coat of arms of the city of Darmstadt (lion rampant over fleur-de-lis) or the state of Hessen (lion). It has not so far been possible to track down an official description of the seal.

Apart from being used as an official symbol, the new design soon established itself as the crest of TH Darmstadt, combined with the three-line title of the university. Since then, it has become the university’s communication brand – recognisable for everyone.