Art History Lab

Unveiling the Magnificence of Viking Art: A Journey into Norse Creativity

Introduction to Vikings

When the term “Viking” is mentioned, what comes to mind? Brutal, savage invaders who pillaged villages and towns, taking whatever they pleased and leaving destruction in their wake?

This is not entirely accurate. While Vikings did engage in raiding and piracy, there is more to them than just their infamous reputation.

In this article, we will delve into the world of Vikings, exploring their reputation and activities, as well as their art and craftsmanship. We will discuss what it means to be a “Viking,” and the materials and techniques used in Viking art.

Let’s take a closer look.

Reputation and Activities of Vikings

The Vikings were a seafaring people who lived in what is now known as Scandinavia from the late 8th to the early 11th century. They were great navigators, with their ships allowing them to explore and trade with the rest of Europe, as well as mount raids on unsuspecting towns and villages.

While the popular image of Vikings is that of brutal, lawless pirates who took what they wanted, the reality is more complex than that. Vikings were skilled warriors and navigators who valued honor and bravery.

They engaged in raiding and piracy, yes, but they also established trade routes and were known for their craftsmanship. The term “viking” actually refers to a type of Norseman who engaged in raiding and pillaging expeditions.

However, not all Norsemen were Vikings. The Norsemen were the people who lived in Scandinavia during this time, while Vikings were those who took to the sea in search of adventure, wealth, and fame.

Norsemen and the term “Viking”

The Norsemen were a collection of tribes and clans who lived in what is now Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. They were farmers, hunters, and traders who lived off the land and sea.

They were skilled craftsmen in woodworking, metalworking, and textiles. The term “Viking” comes from the Old Norse word vikingr, which means “pirate” or “raider.” This term was used to describe those Norsemen who took to the sea to raid and pillage.

However, not all Norsemen were Vikings. Many Norsemen were land-based farmers and craftsmen who had no interest in seafaring and raiding.

Viking Art

Viking art was a reflection of the culture and society of the Norsemen. It was functional and practical, with a focus on ornamentation and symbolism.

Viking art was used to decorate everyday objects, such as bowls, weapons, and clothing, as well as more elaborate works of art, such as carvings and jewelry. Characteristics of

Viking Art

The characteristics of Viking art were defined by functionality and ornamentation.

Viking artists focused on creating objects that were not only useful but also aesthetically pleasing. They used symbolism to convey meaning in their art, with a focus on animals, runes, and mythological creatures.

Viking art was also deeply connected to the natural world. Many Viking objects were decorated with images of animals such as wolves, bears, and eagles, as well as the tree of life, which represented the interconnectedness of all living things.

Materials and Techniques in

Viking Art

Viking artists used a variety of materials and techniques to create their works of art. Woodworking was a popular technique, with many objects such as chests and bowls being carved from wood.

Vikings were also skilled metalworkers, with their intricate jewelry and weapons being highly prized. Other materials used by Viking artists included stones, ivory, bone, and textiles.

Stones were often carved with runes or images of mythological creatures, while ivory and bone were used to create intricate carvings and figures. Textiles were woven into elaborate designs, such as those found on Viking clothing and tapestries.


In conclusion, Vikings were an incredibly complex and multi-faceted society, with a reputation and activities that extend far beyond just raiding and pillaging. They were skilled artisans and craftsmen who produced beautiful works of art that reflected their values and beliefs.

Viking art was functional and practical, but also deeply symbolic and meaningful. The materials and techniques used by Viking artists were varied and diverse, with each object creating a sense of wonder and beauty.

Although they may have had a fearsome reputation, Vikings were much more than just pirates and raiders. They were a people with a rich culture and history, whose influence can still be seen in the world today.

Viking Art Styles

Viking art is known for its intricate designs, deep symbolism, and attention to detail. It developed over a period of several centuries, with distinct styles emerging during different periods in Viking history.

Here, we will examine some of the most prominent Viking art styles. Oseberg Style (c.

775 – 875 CE)

The Oseberg Style emerged around the time of the Viking Age’s beginning and was named after a burial mound in Norway. It was popular from about 775 to 875 CE, and its defining features include the use of large beast-like animals and interlacing patterns.

The Oseberg Style was characterized by its use of serpentine curves, which were meant to symbolize the continuity of life. It was the first major Viking art style to incorporate animal motifs in its designs, such as the stylized serpents and bears found on the Oseberg ship’s carved woodwork.

Borre Style (c. 850 – 975 CE)

The Borre Style emerged during the second half of the Viking Age, around 850 to 975 CE, and was named after a cemetery in Norway.

This style is known for its use of bronze bridle mounts and the gripping beast motif, which are intricate designs of intertwined beasts and knots. The Borre Style features deeply carved, curvilinear lines and foliate patterns.

It is most notable for the gripping beast motif, a design of intertwined beasts with curving tails and tongues that wrap around and bite the other animal’s body. This motif is often used in a symmetrical pattern on both sides of an object, such as on bronze bridle mounts.

Jellinge Style (c. 900 – 975 CE)

The Jellinge Style developed around 900 to 975 CE and took its name from two large burial mounds in Denmark.

It was the style of art favored by Viking kings and is known for its distinctive silver cup. The Jellinge Style is characterized by its use of S-shaped animals and tendril-like patterns.

It also generally features a symmetrical design, with similar animal and plant motifs on either side of the piece. The silver cup, a masterpiece of this style, features intricately designed animals and tendrils that flow around the cup’s body.

Mammen Style (c. 960 – 1000/1025 CE)

The Mammen Style emerged in the second half of the Viking Age, around 960 to 1000/1025 CE.

It takes its name from a Viking burial mound in Denmark and is known for its use of inlaid designs, such as those found on the silver ax head that is a hallmark of this style. The Mammen Style is notable for its use of foliate patterns and a bird-like figure.

It features intricately inlaid designs that incorporate precious metals and stones. Along with this, the bird-like figure is a common element, which is thought to represent a mythical animal called the phoenix.

Ringerike Style (c. 990 – 1050 CE)

The Ringerike Style developed around 990 to 1050 CE and is named after a district in Norway.

It is characterized by its tightly compact, intertwined animals, and double contour lines. The Ringerike Style features runestones carved with compact, intertwined animals, and intricate plant-like patterns.

It differs from earlier Viking art styles in its use of double contour lines, which give its designs a more three-dimensional feel and emphasize the animals’ strength and power. Urnes Style (c.

1050 – 1125 CE)

The Urnes Style developed in the latter part of the Viking Age, around 1050 to 1125 CE. It is named after the Stave Church in Norway, which features some of the style’s most iconic relief carvings.

The Urnes Style is characterized by its refined designs and sophisticated use of negative space. It features intricate carvings of serpent-like figures, knotwork, vines, and animal motifs.

Unlike earlier styles, the Urnes Style features more refined and sophisticated designs that convey a sense of elegance and sophistication.

Decline of Viking Age and Rise of Romanesque Art

The Viking Age came to an end in the late 11th century, partly due to the spread of Christianity throughout Scandinavia. The introduction of Christianity led to a shift away from Viking culture, including its art, which became less prevalent in the early middle ages.

As Viking culture declined, Romanesque art emerged as the dominant style in Europe. Romanesque art was characterized by its use of architectural style, including the rounded arch, barrel vault, and groin vault.

Romanesque art was also closely tied to the church, with many churches featuring elaborate sculptures, icons, and frescoes. While Viking art declined, its influence can still be seen in later art styles.

Romanesque art, for example, was influenced by Viking art’s use of animal motifs, interlacing patterns, and intricate designs.


Viking art is a testament to the creativity and skill of the Viking people. Its intricate designs, deep symbolism, and attention to detail have captivated people for centuries.

The different art styles that emerged during the Viking Age reflect the changing cultural and political landscape of the time. The rise of Christianity and the spread of Romanesque art signaled the decline of Viking culture and art.

However, Viking art’s influence can still be seen in later art styles, proving that its legacy has stood the test of time. Legacy of

Viking Art

Viking art has left a lasting impact on both popular culture and our understanding of history.

Its unique style and symbolism have captured the imagination of people across the globe. In this section, we will explore the pop-cultural trends surrounding Viking culture and the historical significance of Viking art.

Pop-cultural Trend of Viking Culture

In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in Viking culture. This can be seen in the popularity of films, TV shows, and re-enactments that depict Viking life.

Modern interpretations of Vikings often draw inspiration from Viking art, incorporating its distinct visual style into concept art and costume designs. Films such as “Thor” and TV shows like “Vikings” have brought Viking culture to the mainstream.

These portrayals often present a romanticized version of Viking life, emphasizing their prowess as warriors and their adventures at sea. Viking art, with its elaborate designs and fierce animal motifs, has played a crucial role in shaping this visual representation of Vikings.

Beyond the screen, Viking re-enactments have become a popular form of historical interpretation. Enthusiasts don Viking-inspired attire and participate in events that showcase aspects of Viking life, such as combat demonstrations and artisan crafts.

In these re-enactments, Viking art is often replicated on shields, clothing, and jewelry, allowing participants and spectators to immerse themselves in the visual world of the Vikings. Replicas of Viking artifacts, such as weapons, jewelry, and household items, have also become widely available.

These replicas allow individuals to own a piece of Viking history and appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry of the original pieces. By incorporating Viking art into everyday objects, these replicas serve as reminders of the enduring influence of Viking culture.

Historical Significance of

Viking Art

Beyond its role in contemporary culture, Viking art holds immense historical significance. It provides a window into the culture, beliefs, and values of the Viking people.

Through their art, we can gain a deeper understanding of the Viking way of life and their cultural ideals. Viking art was often associated with objects of daily use, such as bowls, spoons, and clothing.

These artifacts, adorned with intricate designs and symbolic motifs, provide insights into the everyday lives of the Vikings. For example, animal motifs found in Viking art, such as serpents and birds, were often used to represent mythological creatures or Norse gods, reflecting the Vikings’ religious beliefs and myths.

Viking art also showcased the skill and craftsmanship of the era. The level of intricacy seen in Viking art, whether it be in their woodwork, metalwork, or weaving, demonstrates the technical abilities of Viking artisans.

These beautiful and ornate artifacts serve as a testament to the mastery of their craft and the value placed on aesthetic beauty within Viking society. Furthermore, Viking art provides clues to the broader historical context in which it was created.

Through the analysis of Viking art, researchers can uncover insights into trade networks, cultural exchanges, and historical events. For example, the presence of certain motifs from other cultures within Viking art suggests contact and interaction between different groups.


The legacy of Viking art extends far beyond its historical context. It continues to captivate and inspire people today through its influence on pop culture and its significance in our understanding of the Viking era.

As modern interpretations of Viking culture continue to evolve, Viking art remains a fundamental component that shapes our perception of these fascinating seafaring people. By appreciating Viking art and its historical significance, we gain a deeper appreciation for the unique culture and artistic achievements of the Vikings.

Viking art is a rich and fascinating aspect of history that has left a lasting legacy. Its distinct styles and symbolism have influenced modern interpretations of Viking culture, as seen in films, re-enactments, and replicas.

However, Viking art goes beyond popular culture and holds historical significance as a window into the Viking way of life, their cultural ideals, and their technical skills. Through Viking art, we can understand the daily lives of the Vikings, explore the intercultural exchanges of the time, and appreciate the craftsmanship of their artifacts.

By appreciating Viking art, we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the unique culture of the Vikings.

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