Viking Art: Origins and The Six Styles

Viking art is also commonly known as Norse art. It is a term that was recognised for the art of the Scandinavian Norsemen and the Viking settlements during the era of the Viking in 8th-11th centuries AD. Viking art is known to have a variety of design elements that overlap with the later Romanesque and Eastern European art. Gradually, an artistic tradition that was familiar to most of north-western Europe formed the foundations on which Viking Age art was built. Therefore, from that point of time, the works of the Scandinavian artists was primarily focused on the multitude of convoluted animal ornamentation that were used in the decoration of various objects.

Viking art accentuates the ornate material culture of the Northerners. It focuses on elaborate decorations and talks about the history of how the people of those times used to decorate many things like: jewellery, weapons, ship woodwork along with their mundane everyday items. The Viking art showcases abstract and delicate animal designs along with interlacing lines. The animals that were usually present  in their art were wolves, horses, birds, imaginary & fantastical animals. Gradually, as the the Viking Era went on, six different art styles emerged. Each style is known to be named according to the area where the specific object was found.

1) Oseberg Style (c. 775 – 875 CE)

Viking Art Oseberg Style - Art of the Dark Ages

Oseberg is the earliest of Viking styles, it is named after the ship that was found at the Oseberg farm in Norway and was embellished with marvellous wood carvings. The Oseberg ornaments consist of fantastic gripping beasts with heads in profile. Their limbs and bodies are displayed in a schematic manner and a filling texture of thin parallel/ intersecting lines inside the bodies.


2) Borre (c. 850 – 975 CE)

Viking Art Oseberg Style

Borre style is known to be named after a grave found in a burial mound in Borre, Vestfold, Norway. It features interlacing double ribbons with geometric knot patterns along with zoomorphic animal motifs.


3) Jellinge (c. 900 – 975 CE)

viking art Jellinge style

The 10th century Jellinge style is much different from the first two as it depicts the findings that are very diverse in quality, geography, and motifs. The main characters of this Viking art style are mostly interlaced and angular ribbon-like animals with profile heads along with uneven short limbs, and spiral hips. Their ribbon­-shaped bodies are filled with transverse billets.


4) Mammen (c. 960 – 1000/1025 CE)

viking art mammen style
Jelling's Large and Younger Rune Stone: "King Harald commanded that stone to be erected to commemorate Gorm, his father, and Thyra, his mother, the Harald, who subjugated all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christians."

The name of this Viking Art derives from one of the wealthiest Viking grave finds known to be found in Mammen, Denmark,  Amongst the buried treasures in that grave, there was an amazingly decorated ceremonial axe resplendent along with silver ingots. There is a major theme that drives every style and this style is adorned with small dots that fill shapes that are mostly of an animal or a bird. Moreover, it features multiple thin and thick lines. The National Museum of Denmark has a copy of the "Cammin Chest" which is an ornamental cask that is seen as another major example of this style.


5) Ringerike (c. 990 – 1050 CE)


VIking art ringerike style
The Vang runestone, decorated with Ringerike-style ornament

This style is named after the Ringerike district in Norway which is a known location where several runestones were erected due to their increase in popularity. In this design, animals and foliate designs are much thinner without the decorative dots in-between that are known as the double contour lines. The animals that are depicted in this Viking art style are beast-like, and appear to be fighting the various serpentine creatures that are encircling their bodies as encountered in the previous styles.


6) Urnes (c. 1050-1125 CE)

Viking art urnes style
 Stave church Urnes, craving detail

The Urnes which dates back to late 11th to early 12th centuries is also known as the runic style. It is often regarded as the best known of the Viking styles. The Urnes ornaments are quite minimalist as most of them often consist of snakes or dragons or other four legged, long-necked animals with tails with elegant heads and complex shapes.


All images via Wikimedia Commons

Written by Ayusshi

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