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The art of the vikings and The seven styles

Norse artworks are some of the only first-hand sources concerning the people inhabiting Scandinavia in the Viking Age. But it may be very difficult and daunting to decipher the individual artworks, and even more difficult to try to recreate them, without a mental model of how the individual pieces fit together, drawn from extensive study of the works of experienced scholars. Often, the surviving original artworks are presented with little or no context, and often are also damaged or distorted due to wear and the effects of time. This guide is intended to paint a broad but cohesive picture of the styles and their development over time. It is by no means meant to be an exhaustive resource, but instead, to act as a stepping stone to help you understand the central concepts of Viking Age art. 

Art historians have defined seven different Viking art styles, where each style was „en vogue“, or most popular in the works of Viking artisans, for from several decades and up to one and half a century.

The seven art styles of the Vikings, the periods where they were popular, are as follows, and in this time order:

Broa Style – Oseberg Style – Borre Style – Jellinge Style – Mammen Style – Ringerike Style – Urnes Style

Urnes Style (1050 to 1150 A.D.)

The Urnes Style was the last phase of Scandinavian animal art during the second half of the 11th century and in the early 12th century.[17] The Urnes Style is named after the northern gate of the Urnes stave church in Norway, but most objects in the style are runestones in Uppland, Sweden, which is why some scholars prefer to call it the Runestone style.[17]

The style is characterized by slim and stylised animals that are interwoven into tight patterns.[17] The animals heads are seen in profile, they have slender almond-shaped eyes and there are upwardly curled appendages on the noses and the necks.

Early Urnes Style

The early style has received a dating which is mainly based on runestone U 343, runestone U 344 and a silver bowl from c. 1050, which was found at Lilla Valla.[18] The early version of this style on runestones comprises England Runestones referring to the Danegeld and Canute the Great and works by Åsmund Kåresson.[18]

Mid-Urnes Style

The mid-Urnes Style has received a relatively firm dating based on its appearance on coins issued by Harald Hardrada (1047–1066) and by Olav Kyrre (1080–1090). Two wood carvings from Oslo have been dated to c. 1050–1100 and the Hørning plank is dated by dendrochronology to c. 1060–1070.[19] There is, however, evidence suggesting that the mid-Urnes style was developed before 1050 in the manner it is represented by the runemasters Fot and Balli.[19]

Late Urnes Style

The mid-Urnes Style would stay popular side by side with the late Urnes style of the runemaster Öpir.[19] He is famous for a style in which the animals are extremely thin and make circular patterns in open compositions.[19] This style was not unique to Öpir and Sweden, but it also appears on a plank from Bølstad and on a chair from Trondheim, Norway.[19]

The Jarlabanke Runestones show traits both from this late style and from the mid-Urnes style of Fot and Balli, and it was the Fot-Balli type that would mix with the Romanesque style in the 12th century.

Urnes-Romanesque Style

The Urnes-Romanesque Style does not appear on runestones which suggests that the tradition of making runestones had died out when the mixed style made its appearance since it is well represented in Gotland and on the Swedish mainland.[20] The Urnes-Romanesque Style can be dated independently of style thanks to representations from Oslo in the period 1100–1175, dendrochronological dating of the Lisbjerg frontal in Denmark to 1135, as well as Irish reliquaries that are dated to the second half of the 12th century.[20]


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