The Art of Vikings

The norse art is something truly magnificent for me. Ages of conquest, colonization and trade with other peoples yielded the style both original and hard to confuse with anything else. Of course the styles differ from one Norse tribe to another, and Norse, being syncretic as usual, adapted all styles they liked as their own. E.g. sometimes it’s hard to tell if the ceramic pots were bought by the Norse from Slavic peoples or made by Norse with slavic decorations. But we all have seen  at least the decoration styles of Vikings, long wurm and floral patterns on longships and runestones.

We can distinguish several decorational styles in the art of Normans, chronologically:

Oseberg style (750 A.D. – 840 A.D.)

Named after boat grave from Oseberg, Norway. Herbal patterns are very seldom used, probably borrowed from other European cultures, but twisted wurm bodies and the so called “gripping beast” style is very visible.

Oseberg ship dragon head.

Detail of the Oseberg ship

Borre style (IXc – Xc)

Named after Vestfold tombs, Norway is a direct continuation of Oseberg style. As before, a “gripping beast” is present, also “ringchain” motif is becoming to be more popular, but there’s no herbal patterns. This is the only style with no herbal patterns.

Borre style brooch

Borre style belt buckle

Jellinge style (835 A.D – 970. A.D)

Named so after the royal tomb mounds  in Jelling, Jutland (Denmark) is a transitional style between Borre style and the next one – Mammen style.

Jellinge style cup (Jelling, Denmark)

Mammen style (Xc-XIc)

Named so after the village Mammen in Jutland (Denmark), and finding from the tomb dated to 970 A.D. The most characteristic for this style is addition of various beasts and twisted wurms, but less fantasy like and more realistic (mainly when it comes to proportions) depictions of those. Also herbal patterns are present, and those are inspired by Western European cultures.

Silver inlaid Mammen axe

Ringerike style (980-1080)

Notable for dominant herbal patterns and less used animal and bestiary patterns.

Ringerike style weathervane

Urnes (XIc -XIIc) The last Norse art style, post viking age. Stylized animals are used, with heads and feet reduced to mere elongated terminals. Figure-eight and multi-loop compositions are employed.

Urnes stave church wall

Urnes style runestone

Viking art documentary: