The Broa-Oseberg Style 780-850
The Vikings had a love of ornaments, their woodcarvers and metalworkers practised their skills in the production of objects and jewelry, bringing colour to the daily life. Nearly all Viking art is decorations of functional objects. The sources for the study are limited, only small numbers of objects have survived.
The vitality of the Vikings spilled over into their art, much of it characterized by the ornaments created from stylized animals. The animals used in the beginning of Viking art were quite unidentificable, although birds are numbered among them. These distorted animals had formed the basis of Scandinavian art from the 5th century AD, and this continued throughout Viking Age. It was a confidential art, but it also drew inspiration from outside, especially western Europe. The process continued, until Scandinavia was drawn into the brotherhood of Christian nation-states - and to the new Romanesque art that was sweeping Europe.
There are 6 styles of Viking art:
1) Broa-Oseberg 780-850
2) Borre 840-970
3) Jelling 880-1000
4) Mammen 950-1030
5) Ringerike 980-1070
6) Urness 1040-1150
The idea of their respective durations is general, it is impossible to give them absolute dates.
Two main finds in Viking art are contrasted: the rich royal burial at Oseberg in Norway with its unique wealth of wood-carvings, and a grave at Broa on Gotland, a man's grave with an ornamented bridle with a set of twenty-two metal mounts.
The Broa mounts are of cast bronze and heavily gilt, they are the work of a master craftsman. His animals are curvaceous, with small heads, frond-like feet, multitute of tendrils, but on a few mounts a new motif appears, the so-called "gripping beast." These two animal-types form the main motifs of what is called the Broa/Oseberg style. It was from this first Viking style that the others developed.
Most ornametal objects from the 9th and 10th century were original placed in the pagan graves, like weapons, brooches, horse-harness. The richest grave is a royal lady's grave at Oseberg (Norway); who could afford to have ships, wagons and bedsteads carved. The Oseberg woodcarvings; ship, wagon, sledge, bedsteads and the animal headpost is the work of a royal "school" of Norwegian carvers in Vestfold.
It is the work of traditionalist master carvers. Like on the Broa mounts the traditional sinuous animals predominate, but "gripping beasts" appear on a number of pieces. One of the animal head-posts is covered with them, while other carvers did not use them at all. One of the conservative pieces is a post carved by a man, nicknamed the "Academician", which is considered the finest carving from the burial. It is not known what purpose these animal headposts had, but their fearsome looks with open jaws suggest that they were intended to ward off evil spirits.
|Wagon from Oseberg burial|
The detail of the workmanship is extraordinary, but the Vikings' love of extravagant ornaments did not rest on carved surfaces, some of the Oseberg pieces are embellished with silver-headed rivets. The ornament of the great wagon is a remarkable series of design, unique among the other carvings. Here are naturalist human heads of the trestles to the interlacing snake-like creatures down its sides. There is a man entangled with snakes - perhaps the legendary hero Gunnar, who was thrown into a snake pit.
The splendour of the Oseberg carvings and the skill of the workmanship show us how much of the best Viking art must be missing. Only a small amount of Viking Age woodwork has survived.
The Borre style 840-970
Source: Viking Art, Moesgård Museum,
photos: gb from Johannes brøndsted "Vikingerne", 1960