Art History Lab

The Enduring Legacy of Viking Art: From Ancient Masterpieces to Contemporary Inspirations

The Vikings, known for their seafaring reputation, were also renowned for their skillful artwork. From intricately carved weapons to beautiful stone carvings, Viking art was both creative and functional.

This article seeks to explore the world of Viking art by examining its history, influence of culture on artifacts, and understanding the Viking concept of art. We will also delve into the traditional art forms, such as Viking ship carving and metalwork, and discover how the Vikings used their creativity and skill to create magnificent pieces of art.

Viking Art and Norse Art

The Vikings were skilled craftsmen, and their art was a reflection of their society. Norse mythology and Viking culture greatly influenced the art of the time.

Viking art is characterized by its intricate patterns, abstract designs, and rich symbolism. It is unique in its blend of art and practicality.

Viking art is found in a variety of forms, such as jewelry, weapons, and sculptures. The art of the Vikings was heavily influenced by Norse mythology, which was central to their culture.

The Vikings believed that the gods and goddesses controlled the world, and therefore, they were an important part of everyday life. The Viking gods and goddesses were depicted in art to pay homage to them.

Norse art was also heavily influenced by the Vikings’ belief in magic, as they believed that magic was an inherent part of nature.

Influence of Viking Culture on Artifacts

The Vikings were a nomadic people who traveled throughout Europe and beyond, leaving behind a trail of artifacts that are still studied today. Their unique culture, beliefs, and practices are distinctly depicted in their art.

To truly understand Viking art, it is important to examine the artifacts left behind and analyze the cultural influences on them. Viking artifacts can be studied using various methods, such as X-rays and chemical analysis.

These methods can reveal intricate details and help shed light on how the Vikings created such impressive works of art.

Understanding the Viking Concept of Art

The Vikings had a different concept of art than what we are accustomed to today. For them, art was not just about aesthetics but also about functionality.

They valued the usefulness of their art and believed that it should be practical and serve a purpose. The Vikings also believed that art should reflect their belief in magic and be a way to connect with their gods and goddesses.

This is why their art is often highly symbolic and intricate. Viking art is not just beautiful; it is also a representation of their culture and beliefs.

Viking Culture and Seafaring Reputation

The Vikings were known for their seafaring reputation, which greatly influenced their art. Viking ships were not only practical but also a symbol of prestige and power.

The sleek and elegant designs of Viking ships were a reflection of their society and culture. The Vikings used their artistic skills to create beautiful and intricate carvings on their ships.

These carvings depicted various aspects of Viking society, such as warriors, gods, and dragons. They also served as a way to intimidate their enemies and showcase their power.

Creativity and Skill in Viking Art

The Vikings were highly skilled craftsmen who valued creativity and individuality. In Viking society, every craftsman was given the opportunity to showcase their skills, and their art was a reflection of their personal creativity and talent.

Viking metalwork was especially unique, with intricate designs and abstract patterns. These pieces were functional works of art, used for everything from jewelry to weaponry.

Viking artists also used a variety of materials, such as silver, gold, and bronze, to create their works of art.


The art of the Vikings is a fascinating blend of creativity, skill, and functionality. Their artwork is a reflection of their society, culture, and beliefs.

Viking art offers a glimpse into the past and provides a rich source of information for historians and art enthusiasts alike. By exploring Viking art and its various forms, we gain a better understanding of Viking culture and the deep connection that the Vikings had with their art and their gods.

Religious Impact on Norse Artwork

Religion played a significant role in the art of the Norse people. Their art reflected their beliefs and practices, both in paganism and Christianity.

In this section, we will explore how these two religions influenced Norse artwork.

Pagan Religion in Scandinavia

The Norse people lived in a pagan society, where the gods and goddesses were revered and worshipped. The art of the Norse people reflected their pagan beliefs and practices.

Paganism had a significant impact on Norse art, influencing the design and meaning of their artwork. One of the notable examples of pagan art is the design of the Viking longship, which was adorned with intricate carvings depicting various gods, goddesses, and mythical creatures.

These carvings were intended to provide protection and blessings from their deities in their voyages.

Another pagan-inspired art form is rune stones, which were inscribed with mystical symbols that held magical powers in the eyes of the Norse people.

It is believed that these ancient inscriptions were used as a form of communication with the gods and ancestors.

Influence of Christianity on Norse Art

After the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia, the art of the Norse people began to change. Christianity had a significant impact on Norse art, influencing the design, subject matter, and symbolism of their artwork.

Christian art was characterized by depictions of Biblical figures, saints, and other religious iconography. The Vikings were quick to adapt this new art form and its conventions to their own art, slowly integrating it into their own artwork.

Eventually, Christian art replaced pagan art in Scandinavia and became the most widespread art form. Later generations of Vikings fused Christian elements of their art with their own traditional pagan motifs as a way of retaining their Nordic identity while still being part of Christian society.

Where to View Norse Artworks

Norse art is an integral part of Scandinavian history. Fortunately, many museums and cultural institutions provide ample opportunities for individuals to explore Norse art forms.

Some of the most popular venues with Viking art collections are outlined below.

Museums with Viking Art Collections

Natural History Museum of Denmark: The museum is home to the largest collection of Viking artifacts in the world, spanning from weapons and jewelry to rune stones. It offers visitors a glimpse into the life and customs of Viking society.

Viking Ship Museum, Norway: Located in Oslo, the Viking Ship Museum is home to authentic Viking ships and a range of Viking artifacts. The displays provide insight into Viking naval life and their long-lasting seafaring legacy.

National Museum of Denmark: The museum offers visitors insights into Denmark’s history, from the Viking era to modern times. Among its extensive collection are remarkable Viking artifacts from excavations throughout Denmark.

Specific Examples of Viking Art Locations

Urnes Stave Church, Norway: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the church features intricate wooden carvings of dragons, serpent-dragons, and other animal motifs, making it an ideal location to explore traditional Viking and Norse art. Jelling Stones, Denmark: The Jelling Stones are the most famous runic stones in Denmark, noted for their distinctive Viking carvings and picturesque location.

These stones are an iconic representation of ancient Viking art and culture.


Norse art remains one of the most fascinating and dynamic forms of art to explore. Whether examining pagan or Christian motifs, it offers a tantalizing window into the culture, beliefs, and practices of Norse people.

With numerous museums and locations offering unique examples of Viking and Norse art, both local and international visitors have many opportunities to immerse themselves in this rich and ancient artistic tradition.

Materials Used by the Viking Culture

The Vikings were skilled craftsmen who used various materials to create their art. In this section, we will explore the materials used by Viking craftsmen and their significance in Norse artwork.

Use of Wood and Organic Materials

Wood was one of the primary materials used in Viking art. The Vikings crafted everything from furniture and utensils to boats and even buildings with wood.

Viking shipbuilding, in particular, highlights their mastery of woodwork and seafaring. Organic materials, such as antler, bone, and horn, were also widely used in Viking art.

Antlers were used for carving intricate designs, while bones and horns were used to create jewelry and other ornamental objects. The Vikings also utilized animal hides and fur as a means to decorate clothing and armor.

Importance of Stone in Norse Art

Stone was an essential material in Viking art, and the use of different stones had symbolic meanings. The Vikings worked with various types of stone, including soapstone, granite, and limestone, and used it in architectural creations, sculptures, and jewelry.

One of the most notable examples of Viking stone sculpture is the carving of the Jelling stones. These monuments were inscribed with Norse runes and intricate patterns, depicting scenes from the Viking Age, and notable figures such as Harold Bluetooth who was one of the most significant Danish Viking kings.

Significance of Metalwork in Viking Art

Metalwork played a crucial role in Viking art and was used to create intricate designs. The Vikings used gold, silver, bronze, iron, and other metals to create their art, often combining different types of metal to create striking contrasts.

One example of Viking metalwork is the intricate designs that were etched on shields and helmets, as these items were used in battle they often served as a way to display their owner’s wealth and power. Viking jewelry also frequently incorporated metalwork, with ornate brooches, rings, and necklaces.

Styles of Viking Artwork

The Vikings developed unique styles of artwork that were characteristic of their culture and region. In this section, we will explore the different Viking styles of artwork and their characteristics.

Overview of the Oseberg Style

The Oseberg style, named after the famous Oseberg burial mound near Tnsberg, Norway, is characterized by curved animal shapes and intricate knot-work designs. This style is prominently featured on the Oseberg ship burial, which included ornately crafted wagons and animal carvings.

Characteristics of the Borre Style

The Borre style, named after the Borre ring-grave site in Vestfold, Norway, is characterized by the use of interlacing and intricate knot motifs. This style is often associated with Viking religious rituals and practices and features prominently in art such as runic inscriptions and decorative elements in weapons and armor.

Distinctive Features of the Jellinge Style

The Jellinge style, named after the Jelling stones in Denmark, is characterized by the use of Norse mythology and historic events in their artwork. This style is distinct in its high level of detail and the use of symmetrical patterns.

Elements of the Mammen Style

The Mammen style is characterized by the use of interlocking animal motifs and intricate knot designs. This style is named after the Mammen grave site in Jutland, where many of the artifacts feature this distinctive style.

Analysis of the Ringerike Style

The Ringerike style is characterized by its use of serpents and dragon motifs and was popularized during the mid-11th century. This style is named after the Ringerike region of Norway, where a number of Viking artefacts feature this design.

Unique Aspects of the Urnes Style

The Urnes style is characterized by its intricately carved animal figures and embellished organic designs in a sleek, artistic form. This style is named after the Urnes Stave Church, one of the most celebrated monuments in Norway, which exquisitely displays the Urnes style.


The Vikings were an incredibly skilled and creative people who crafted stunning works of art using a wide range of materials such as wood, metal, stone, and organic materials. Their artistic traditions inspired unique styles, each with its distinct features, and motifs that are now identified as an integral part of Viking culture.

Understanding these various Viking art forms and styles provides insight into their history, religion, and artistic practices.

Contemporary Viking Art

While the Viking Age may be long gone, the influence of Viking art continues to resonate in modern times. In this section, we will explore the contemporary aspects of Viking art, including the creation of replicas and modern interpretations, as well as its influence in popular culture.

Replicas and Modern Interpretations of Viking Art

Viking art has left an indelible mark on history, and its significance has not dwindled in contemporary times. One way this is evident is through the creation of replicas and modern interpretations of Viking art.

Skilled artisans and craftsmen continue to replicate Viking artifacts using traditional techniques and materials, striving to capture the essence of the original pieces. Replicas of Viking jewelry, weapons, and other artifacts can be found in museums and private collections around the world.

These replicas serve as educational tools, providing individuals with the opportunity to experience and appreciate Viking art firsthand. They also enable us to understand the craftsmanship and intricacies involved in the creation of Viking art.

In addition to replicas, contemporary artists have been inspired by Viking art, incorporating its motifs and styles into their own creations. This modern interpretation of Viking art allows for artistic freedom and experimentation while honoring the aesthetics and symbolism of the original artwork.

Influence of Viking Art in Popular Culture

Viking art has made a significant impact on popular culture, particularly through its representation in various forms of entertainment. Popular TV series, such as “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom,” have brought the Viking culture to a broader audience, and artistic aspects such as Viking art have played a crucial role in capturing the essence of the time period.

The intricate designs and symbols of Viking art have become iconic and instantly recognizable in popular culture. Many people now associate the Viking aesthetic with bravery, strength, and adventure.

This has influenced the fashion industry, with Viking-inspired jewelry and accessories becoming popular items. Furthermore, the influence of Viking art can be found in contemporary tattoo designs.

People often choose Viking-inspired tattoos not only for their visual appeal, but also for the symbolism and connection to the Viking culture and their values. Viking motifs can also be found in various forms of contemporary visual art, including paintings, sculptures, and digital art.

Artists today, inspired by the rich history and captivating imagery of Viking art, incorporate these elements into their own works, blending the ancient and the modern. The presence of Viking art in popular culture has sparked curiosity and interest in the Viking Age and its artistic traditions.

It has provided a gateway for individuals to learn more about Viking history and explore the beauty and symbolism represented in their artwork.


From replicas and modern interpretations to its influence in popular culture, Viking art continues to captivate and inspire. The creation of replicas allows individuals to experience the craftsmanship and beauty of these ancient artifacts, while modern interpretations bring new life to Viking art through the eyes of contemporary artists.

Moreover, the influence of Viking art in popular culture, notably in TV series, fashion, and tattoo designs, has ensured that the legacy of Viking art remains alive and vibrant in the modern world. As we continue to explore and appreciate Viking art, we forge a deeper connection with the rich history and cultural heritage of the Norse people.

In conclusion, Viking art is a remarkable testament to the creativity, skill, and cultural identity of the Norse people. Through the use of materials such as wood, stone, and metal, Viking craftsmen created intricate and symbolic artworks that reflected their beliefs, traditions, and seafaring prowess.

The different styles of Viking artwork, such as the Oseberg, Borre, Jellinge, Mammen, Ringerike, and Urnes styles, offer unique glimpses into the artistic evolution of the Viking Age. Furthermore, the continued creation of replicas and modern interpretations of Viking art, as well as its influence in popular culture, underscores its enduring significance in contemporary times.

Exploring Viking art provides us with a greater understanding of the Viking culture and leaves us with a lasting appreciation for the beauty, craftsmanship, and timeless allure of these ancient artworks.

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