Art Styles of the Vikings
The seven distinct styles
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:
Here under is a further description of each style, with pictures. All the dates are approximates.
Broa (790-850 A.D.)
The earliest style of the Vikings. It is named after a grave find in Broa on Gotland, which is a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. This is the style that was current in the actual days of Ragnar „Lothbrok“, Lagertha, Queen Aslaug, Bjorn „Ironside“, Ivar „the boneless“ and other characters in the aforementioned TV show The Vikings. The fundamentals of this style probably were developed by artisans before what is formally known as the Viking period. That is the so-called Vendel period in the Nordic countries,which was the in-between period where not much was happening politically, and is defined between the more dramatic Migration and Viking periods. Some historians don‘t seem to see it as a Viking age style. Maybe that is because it formed before the Viking age itself? They just mention the Oseberg style in the beginning, or are designated as Oseberg/Broa. But these two styles are so radically different, that the founder of Look: Viking! views them as two distinct style categories, and on some websites, the Broa style is mentioned independently as well.
Artefacts that depict the Broa style are from the beginning of the Viking age at 793 A.D. and are known until around 850 A.D. The Broa style consists mostly of forms that depict animals, as is most common in Viking art styles. The Broa style is most favored by the founder of Look: Viking! (along with the style at the very end of the Viking age, the Urnes style). The Broa style is wholly abstract in forms and composition, and the Viking age artist‘s imagination visible in the forms is really mind blowing. The animal forms swirl, sway and interlock across the surface that is decorated. There is a great freedom in abstract forms, and often astounding beauty, which is very distinct and unlike what other European societies were creating at the time.
Oseberg (790-850 A.D.)
Named after the spectacular burial find at Oseberg, near Tønsberg in Vestfold county, Norway. The find included a longship that was carved in ornate forms. (There are a number of modern, sea going copies that have been built based on the Oseberg longship).There were also other carved objects of wood, including a sledge. The style in these carvings has been defined as a distinct Viking art style.
The forms of the Oseberg style seem to depict abstract patterns, and both animals and human persons of some kind, the latter which is not very common in Viking decorative art. They are more chubby and crammed-in, and don‘t flow around the decorated surface like the Broa style. The Oseberg style is characterized by the gripping beast. That are animals which grip themselves or the animal next to them with their paws. The Oseberg style was at the same time as the Broa style, or from around 793 to around 850 A.D.
Borre (850 to 950 A.D.)
The Borre style is named after a grave find in the Borre burial mound, near the village of Borre in Vestfold, Norway. In the Borre style, the surface is very crammed by forms,that are small and cubby in shape, in tight compositions. These include both geometric knot patterns, and zoomorphic animal motifs. The overall object is sometimes divided into two, three or four areas, sometimes circular, and divided by bars. The gripping beast is a very common theme in Broa artefacts, which include a great number of bronze cast brooches for both men and women, found in archeological excavations in many locations all around the Nordic countries. The Borre style was popular among artisans between around 850 to 950 A.D.
Jellinge (900 to 980 A.D.)
The Jellinge style is named after a grave find in Jelling in Denmark, which was a town in the Viking age and one of the main seats of power and trade in the Danish kingdom at the time. The most beautiful artefact found was the Jelling silver cup. This piece probably belonged to the king or queen of Denmark, or at least a powerful Jarl (earl) or a Jarl‘s wife. The Jelling style includes a band of square formed patterns that run along the swirling and swaying body of the animal. This animal is relatively realistic in look – much more realistic than the animal forms of the Broa style. The animal stretches along the surface with more elongated and flowing shapes than in the Borre style. The Jelling style was popular among artisans between around 900 and to almost 1000 A.D.
Mammen (970 to 1020 A.D.)
The Mammen style is named after a very opulent grave find in Mammen in Denmark. The grave find included a highly ornamented ceremonial axe decorated with patterns inlaid with silver filigraine. Another object attributed to this style is the Cammin Chest (now lost, but a copy exists in the National Museum of Denmark). The many sides of the cask are each decorated with an animal or bird motif. These animal and bird forms are decorated with many dots, that fill the shapes completely. The axe and the cask are arguably among themost spectacular grave finds from the Viking period. The Mammen style has been dated between around 970 to 1020 A.D.
Ringerike (1000 to 1070 A.D.)
The Ringerike style is named after the Ringerike district north of Oslo, Norway. In the Ringerike style, you can see both animal and birds, with many tendrils stemming from the animal, and plant motifs. Several different types of crosses, palmettes, and pretzel shaped nooses are seen for the first time in Nordic art. The best known artefacts showing the Ringerike style are the carved Vang rune stone in Ringerike, and two weathervanes, found in Källunge, Gotland and from Söderala, Hälsingland, in Sweden. The motifs seen in the Ringerike style have their counterparts in Anglo-Saxon and Ottonian art of the same period. Artfacts in the Ringerike style have been dated from around 1000 to 1070 A.D.
Urnes (1050 to 1150 A.D.)
Named after the spectacular carvings of the stave church at Urnes in Norway. This style evolved at the end of the Viking age, and continued to be popular into the 12th century, when the Viking age had already ended and most of the Nordics had converted to the Christian faith. The urnes style is characterised by very elongated and elegantly shaped animals that swirl and sway in long, with almond shaped eyes and long faces that are seen in profile. The Urnes style has been defined into three sub-styles, Early-, Mid- and Late-Urnes styles. The Urnes style was active between around 1050 to 1150 A.D., when it was succeeded by the Urnes-Romanesque style, and later other medieval art styles.
Inspiration for Look: Viking! designs
The items designed and produced under the Look: Viking! brand will be clearly marked to belong to a particular Viking age style, when that is the case. This will be mentioned both on the website of Look: Viking! where a work is featured (with tags), and the pieces themselves will even be marked when that is relevant.
See also: A view of 2000 years of art history.