Archive for the ‘Visual Arts of Norse Inspiration’ Category

The Gods of Sweden’s Nationalmuseum

Monday, May 4th, 2020

The Big 3 abide in a courtyard near the entrance to the Nationalmuseum in central Stockholm. There, Odin, Thor, and Balder are carved in stone, and look very, very austere. They also look more Roman than Norse, with their togo-like attire barely covering their impeccable bodies of Italian Carrara marble, but that was the fashion of sculpture at the time of their creation. They were created in the 19th century by Bengt Erland Fogelberg, who also created many other magnificent statues, particularly of Swedish kings, which are largely located in very prominent outdoor spaces in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

But back in The Sculpture Courtyard, the Roman effect is further augmented by the presence of members of the actual Roman pantheon (Venus is present). The entourage is completed with famous statesmen, artists, and authors from Swedish history.

Nationalmuseum is a treasure trove of Swedish art. It covers a vast array of eras, styles, and themes, but for anyone interested in romanticized visions of the pagan Scandinavian past, it must be noted that it also hosts one of the greatest contributions to that particular niche of all: Carl Larsson’s painting, Midvinterblot, as shown below.

The Art of Vikings, Metal, and Viking Metal

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

One of the great things about the internet, besides the ability to waste time by blabbering and shouting into its gaping abyss, is the ability to descend into its gaping abyss, doing nothing, except perhaps discovering badass things that you might have never otherwise ever encountered. And it was on one of these internet time-wasting expeditions that I inadvertently discovered the awesomeness of Christian Sloan Hall’s art. Sometimes the norns smile on you, even when you’re doing jack shit.

Anyway, Christian Sloan Hall is an artist who dabbles heavily in Norse themes, metal themes, and Norse-metal themes, which are all things that I highly condone. It’s an excellent body of work and his pieces have adorned official band t-shirts, backdrops, and posters, and have been found in the pages of both Metal Hammer and Terrorizer. A smattering of the bands that he has worked with include:

Amon Amarth
Dimmu Borgir
Heidevolk
Testament
Shrapnel
The Crown
High On Fire

(If you don’t recognize any of those names, then you would probably be better served by going here instead.)

There are many more pieces than can be shown here, but this is an introductory sampling to give you a taste:





And to view more of his work, all you need to do is visit his official website, store, or one of his online profiles (facebook in particular has an extensive gallery):

American Vendetta
DeathLord
Deviant Art
Facebook
Twitter

Lastly, while I normally blabber into the gaping abyss about art by artists who are long since dead and gone, if Mr. Hall’s work has whetted your appetite for relevant viewing options by other actual living folks, check out these earlier posts in which I blabbered about the excellence of noble brutishness and truly epic postage.

Gustaf Tenggren’s Tomtar and Troll

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Poor old Gustaf Tenggren, he just doesn’t get the credit that he deserves for his tomtar and troll work. John Bauer usually receives all the glory, and it’s much deserved, but he wasn’t the only one working with these Nordic gnomes and trolls and deep, dark woods. And in case you’re wondering, Bland Tomtar och Troll is an annual Swedish anthology of fairy tale-esque illustrations dating back to 1907. John Bauer was the first artist to take up the reins for the series, and Gustaf Tenggren followed him as the second.

But Tenggren hasn’t acquired quite the same degree of renown for his gnomes and trolls. Instead, he’s better known for his classic American children’s books and early animated movies like these:

But before all that, Tenggren got his start in Gothenburg and illustrated ten editions of Bland Tomtar och Troll. Then in 1920 he took the long voyage to Vinland where Little Golden Books and Disney awaited. After moving around the land among Ohio, New York, and Hollywood, he finally settled down with his wife in Norumbega—specifically on an island off the coast of Maine—because it reminded him of Sweden. And there he lived till his death in 1970. Below are some more examples of his folkloric/fairy-tale work, as well as a few links to more authoritative sources about the man.

The first link is to Lars Emanuelsson’s website about Gustaf Tenggren. Emanuelsson is pretty much an expert on Tenggren and has authored the book on the man (which is only available in Swedish in Sweden, of course). This site was the one that first opened my eyes to Tenggren’s glory:
Gustaf Tenggren’s World

The Saturday Evening Post has a good article about Tenggren’s life, with an emphasis on his role in early Disney animated films:
Gustaf Tenggren: The Man Who Shaped Disney’s First Animated Movies

Tulane University has a nice little blurb about the man, too, related to a larger art exhibit on display there:
Once Upon a Canvas: Exploring Fairy Tale Illustrations from 1870-1942

True Norwegian Tapestry Art

Sunday, September 8th, 2019

Hail to the Allfather of Norwegian Art Nouveau tapestries inspired by Norse history and Scandinavian folklore! Obviously, that can only mean one person: Gerhard Munthe, of course. A household name on par with Nils Blommér, Hans Gude, and Mårten Eskil Winge, så klart.

Back in 1891 Munthe declared that the design of products coming out of his homeland weren’t Norwegian enough in their aesthetics, so he took it upon himself to attempt to rectify the situation. Most of his efforts were focused on items related to interior design, and so he dabbled not only with tapestries, but also with furniture, silverware, and porcelain, among others. He became well-known for his tapestries and interior designs, but really seemed to relish his work in illustration and painting the most, even if those efforts didn’t garner quite the same degree of acclaim.

That tapestry up at the top of this post is Munthe’s ode to the Battle of Hjörungavágr, and is presently property of Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum, though a replica of it appears to be on loan at the American Swedish Institute’s new Norse Saga Room in Minnesota, so that’s cool.

Anyway, here’re a couple more of his tapestries:
This one’s called The Suitors (The Daughters of the Northern Lights). And while grooms as polar bear are cool, anyone curious about a reversal of bear-courtship gender roles should really give Corwin Ericson’s Swell a read.

This one appears to just be called Saga. I couldn’t find much more info about it. Yup.

But Munthe’s work beyond tapestries also deserve special note, especially since he illustrated the 1899 Norwegian edition of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla. So here’re a couple examples from that:

And for more on Gerhard Munthe himself, these are some good links:

Nasjonalmuseet: Gerhard Munthe – Enchanted Design

Apollo Magazine: Gerhard Munthe – A Madcap Medievalist in 19th-Century Norway

Monster Brains’ Gerhard Munthe Image Gallery

Taste the Sampo

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Life somehow just feels a little less trite and meaningless when you discover that an entire series of Finnish beers based on The Kalevala exists. Of course, we may be all speeding headlong towards a final destination six feet below ground (and many Finnish bands do their best to remind us of this) and it may feel like Ragnarök just keeps getting closer and closer (and many Swedish bands do their best to remind us of this), but until our personal or collective worlds are torn asunder, we at least have actual, genuine, Ostrobothnian-brewed Kalevalian beer! And proper graphic design to accompany it! Which is what this disgrace of a rambling post is mostly about.

This is partly because Ylikylä Olut Oy is a small brewery, and thus they don’t distribute to Vinland, and thus consuming their glorious nectar is something of a frustrating impossibility unless you live near their home. However, admiring their beer labels from afar is much easier.

And so praise be to Asko Leinonen for creating these works of mythological alcoholic art! Several of his badass label designs are shown below, and more may be viewed on his portfolio here, which is definitely worth checking out.

And I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to visually admire or taste those extra special bitters of Ilmarinen or Väinämöinen?

And hey! If you actually read this far, then maybe check out Corwin Ericson’s book Swell. It presents a new, interesting interpretation of the sampo. And we all need new, interesting interpretations of the sampo.

The Great Norwegian Trolldomizer

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Trolls are inspirational creatures. This is pretty much an established fact, at least among 19th century/very early 20th century Scandinavian artists. I’ve long known about the trolls and tomtar illustrated by the Swede John Bauer, who I hailed in the distant past for his more Norse-myth related work, but I had been embarrassingly ignorant of Theodor Kittelsen’s extensive contributions to the canon of visualized trollery till I read John Lindow’s Trolls: An Unnatural History. The sad thing is, I’ve long been familiar with some of Kittelsen’s work, but I failed to put it all together. The forest troll depicted above is probably the most recognizable culprit, but Kittelsen did so much more. Like this disturbed/disturbing sea troll:

Or this troll marauding down Oslo’s main street with Henrik Ibsen being pompous and oblivious in the lower right corner:

Or these trolls marching to war for Norway (I think; I’m not actually totally sure what’s going on here):

Or these trolls on their way to the fairy-tale Soria Moria Castle:

The trolls go on and on and there is a much more extensive collection of them over at Monster Brain’s website for those who feel the lure of Kittelsen’s trolldom. There’s also a whole exhibit dedicated to Kittelsen’s art over at The Cobalt Works and Mines in Åmot, Norway (because viewing classic trollish art at an early industrial underground mining may not be an obvious idea, but it is an ingenious one).

But that’s not all! Kittelsen also illustrated cool Norse related scenery, too. Like this Viking ship flying/crashing through some evergreen trees(?):

And this image of a sea monster, probably Jörmundgandr:

And then there is this, his grand tribute to Norwegian folk traditions involving the playing of the lur. Metalheads will recognize this one because of its association with Varg Vikernes and Burzum’s Filosofem album, which has unfortunately given the artwork a bit of a negative association. But of course that is not Kittelsen’s fault; he was long dead before Vikernes was even born, let alone murdering people and committing arson.

‘Tis the Season for Classic American Paintings of Pagan Finnish Santa Look-Alikes

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

THE MAGICIAN AND THE MAID OF BEAUTY
“High in the sky he saw a rainbow, and on it the Maid of Beauty.” (Wainamoinen returns home on a sledge from his exile in the icy wastes of Pohyola and attempts—extremely unsuccessfully—to flirt with the most attractive woman alive in the sky.)

Normally this dreadful, little blog focuses only on the Scandia part of Fennoscandia, but since Yule is in the air (or at least the 21st century commercialized version of it is on the shopping aisles, airwaves, etc.), it seems appropriate to deviate from that rigid stance and benignly embrace the Fenno side. Which of course can only mean: The Kalevala, Finnish metal, and/or Finnish metal based upon The Kalevala. In this particular instance, it’s specifically about the Kalevelian paintings done by N.C. Wyeth in 1912 for James Baldwin’s The Sampo: Hero Adventures from the Finnish Kalevala, which is no longer in print under the original name but has been re-released by those mighty re-printers of archaic, copy-right-expired texts, Dover Publications.

Adding to the fun trivia side of things, the venerable N.C. Wyeth was also a genuine Masshole (from Needham) who not only illustrated The Kalevala, but also illustrated other great stories such as Robin Hood, King Arthur, Treasure Island, and The Last of the Mohicans, all of which are much, much better known than The Kalevala outside of Finland. And, to use the sort of parlance favored by medieval Icelandic scribes (which isn’t what this post is about, but still), N.C. also sired Andrew Wyeth in a fruitful union between the houses of Wyeth and Bockius, and thus produced a male heir to inherit his artist’s crown, which has since passed on to Andrew’s son, Jamie. Much of the art of the Wyeth lineage is on display and online at The Brandywine River Museum of Art, but N.C.’s less-Santa-like Kalevelian works are also depicted below; the phrases in quotes are words from Baldwin’s text, and I’ve provided my own clarifications in parenthetical yellow to help put it all in context.

THE HAG OF THE ROCK
“An old, old woman, gray-eyed, hook-nosed, wrinkled, was sitting on the rock and busily spinning.”
(To prevent Wainamoinen from leaving the land of the dead, the evil hag relies on the age-old trick of failed hero-capturing: spinning an insane amount of thread that her cohort, an evil wizard, weaves together into a massive and ultimately ineffective fishing net.)

THE SLAVE BOY
“Then, at length, when all were peacefully feeding, he sat down upon a grassy hummock and looked around him, sad, lonely, vindictive.”
(Ilmarinen’s slave is pissed that the kitchen-wench put a rock in his bread.)

THE GOLDEN MAIDEN
“The flames died suddenly away, and out of the vessel there sprang a wonderful image—the image of a beautiful maiden.”
(Ilmarinen gets lonely after his entire household is mercilessly slaughtered, so he uses his unworldly blacksmith skills to create what is essentially an ancient blow-up doll, except that it’s made entirely out of gold and silver.)

And last, but not least, what would a post about Kalevelian art be without an appropriate Finnish metal soundtrack to accompany it? Because nothing screams seasonal festivity and Yuletide tradition like blasting Amorphis’ epic Kalevala concept album, Tales from the Thousand Lakes:

Stone Cold Rainbow Bridge

Thursday, September 13th, 2018


I’ve written about Boston’s mighty Longfellow Bridge before (scroll towards the bottom of the Leif Eriksson Norumbega page if you’re curious), but I’ve never had the pleasure of actually drifting aimlessly by it in a shallow-hulled paddling vessel that could never ever hope to possibly survive a full-blown voyage across the North Atlantic. Until now.

At long last, I finally got up close and personal with those mighty salt and pepper shakers. And they are indeed both mighty and glorious. On the one hand, I lament that they don’t build bridges like this anymore, because look at that ornate stone detailing! And who wouldn’t want the prow of a Viking longship to protrude from every pier of every bridge? But then on the other hand, the Longfellow Bridge suffers from a lack of structural integrity which isn’t helped by the trains that rumble across it every few minutes. But that also has more to do with neglect and disrepair than anything else, so shame on that. But visually, it’s still going strong, and should be structurally healthy again by year’s end.

And of course what would a pointless post to a pointless blog be without an embedded link to some meaningful and topically appropriate metal?

Appeasing the Gnomes of Midwinter Darkness

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Yuletide’s once again upon us and what better way to celebrate the season than by admiring Þorgerðr Hǫlgabrúðr’s rain of death and destruction upon the Jomsvikings in an epic medieval sea battle as is shown in the image below?

Or how about this one, in which King Hrolf Kraki spreads gold upon the fields of Fyrisvellir to distract and escape the dastardly Swedes in Uppsala?

These scenes of pivotal moments from the Norse sagas were drawn by Jenny Nyström, who interestingly, was also responsible for popularizing the prevailing imagery of the Jultomte, the notorious gnome of Scandinavian folklore who demanded to be appeased with a bowl of porridge during the month of December or else he would start conducting some serious mischief, like tying cows’ tails together or knocking shit over.

Jenny Nyström was very prolific with her work, supporting not only herself, but also her invalid husband and their son. She was born in Kalmar, Sweden, where there is now an exhibit at the county museum dedicated to her honor. She passed away 70 years ago, but thankfully left behind many runes to her own memory.

And on a side note, since we’re heading into the darkest depths of winter, here’s a little something to help set the mood:

Birch-Shoe-Wearing-Guys, Save the King!

Saturday, November 12th, 2016


So this one’s deviating a little from the strictly Norse theme, but how can you not like a painting like this? Even if they’re aren’t technically Vikings, these guys are still hardcore. They’re skiing across Norway in medieval times in the dead of winter to save the baby infant king, being followed by assassins who just killed the little guy’s dad in a diabolical plot to steal the throne. Plus it’s just a cool looking painting.

This one was done by good ole Knud Bergslien, who painted many, many portraits of well-to-do Norwegians back in the 1800s, as well as a few landscapes and scenes from the country’s past, such as the one of the birkebeiner above (the birkebeiner were a group vying for political control of Norway and take their name from an insult in the day–that they were so poor they could only afford to make their shoes out of birch, and if that isn’t degrading, then I don’t know what is.)

The mad dash across the country on skis is one of Norway’s special historical moments and has been commemorated over the years, not just in the painting by Bergslien, but in a recent, full-length Norwegian film named “Birkebeinerne.” There are also races every year honoring the event in Norway and in Wisconsin (since they got lots ‘o Norskies up there too). The film is currently available on Netflix, under the title “The Last King” (since a movie with an accurately translated title like “The Birch-Legs” or “The Birch-Shoe-Wearing-Guys” apparently isn’t sexy enough for English-speaking audiences):

And, last but not least, here’s one of Bergslien’s majestic landscape paintings to end on an scenic note:

Going Vintage Scandinavian

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

What better way to start off the new year 2.5 weeks late than by showcasing some vintage artwork that is nearly a century old and harkens back to a bygone age of style and class? Some things just never go out of fashion, and I am convinced that the classic 1930s era trans-Atlantic travel posters depicting the Norse side of Norway and the medieval side of Sweden are two of these things. While I never really need any additional motivation to want to go to Scandinavia, these posters certainly don’t give me any pause for second thoughts. The artwork was supposedly done by a guy named Ivar Gull, who I am assuming was Norwegian, but there is an unfortunate dearth of information about him online. Even wikipedia comes up empty handed, and that’s just a load of horseshit, especially since they’re all patting themselves on the back for turning 15 recently. I mean here we are, in the soulless, digital age of 2016, and even wikipedia can’t instantaneously provide any unverified free information about the guy? Sometimes I just don’t know what the world is coming to.

Holger the Sleepy

Monday, August 10th, 2015

Holger Danske, or Ogier the Dane as he’s known in the non-Scandinavian-language-speaking parts of the world, slumbers in the deep, dark dungeons of Hamlet’s castle, Kronborg, about an hour north of Copenhagen, defending Denmark with his staunch snoring. It doesn’t look like a very comfortable position. Personally, if I was going to sleep for years on end, I’d prefer to lie down and take off my armor. But then I’m a lame, weirdo blogger type of person, whereas Holger is a heroic badass who will wake and arise whenever his nation is threatened, so I think he probably does most things better than me, especially when it concerns medieval warfare, battle-preparedness, and general sexiness of appearance.

This particularly sexy rendition of Holger was sculpted by Hans Peder Pedersen-Dan back in the glorious year of ’07 (1907, that is). Pedersen-Dan, not only sculpted this great Nordic hero, but also made some important contributions to the Carlsberg Brewery, so he deserves double skåls for that.

Check out the photos below for an additional, sexy shot of Holger himself as well as his humble abode.

Djurgårdsbron: Where Silent Gods Stand Guard

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Djurgårdsbron is a bridge in central Stockholm where Freyja, Thor, Frigg, and Heimdall stand guard…silently. Just Like in the song, only minus all the decapitations and shape-shifting into wolf-form. And for some reason Odin is missing from the entourage. But otherwise, just like in the song. And if you cross the bridge, you don’t arrive in Asgard, but rather Djurgården (essentially Swedish for “Animal Farm”…menacing, indeed), one of Stockholm’s many islands and home to, among other attractions, the official Pippi Longstocking museum (also very menacing).

The statues were created by Rolf Adlersparre while the bridge was designed by architect Erik Josephson and built by Carl Fraenell in 1897 for the world expo that took place on Djurgårdsbron the same year. The old-timey photographs look pretty hardcore, but not nearly as hardcore as medieval wolf-men wielding swords and slaying all foresworn enemies in an endless orgy of slaughter and mayhem:

Of Stonework and Meadcraft

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t combine alcohol with certain activities involving the use of heavy machinery and/or sharp tools because if you do then you might not use your best judgement and accidentally do something clumsy like cut off your arm or leg. And then if something like that does happen then you only have yourself to blame which means that the option of starting a classic Norse blood feud goes out the window, and if there’s no chance of burning down your mortal enemies’ house then where’s the fun?

At any rate, up along the fringes of Lake Michigan Ted “Stenhugger” Strandt works with sharp tools and alcohol in the sense that he both carves badass sculptures from stone and brews his own mead. Yes, it was misleading of me to imply that drunken chainsaw operation was the activity of choice, but I have never claimed to possess a high standard of journalistic integrity and that is besides the point anyway. The point is that artfully chiseled stonework honoring Norse mythology and the craft brewing of mead are both activities that I support. The image above shows one of his latest works made of marble and entitled Eitri presenting Mjolnir, which should need no explanation for anyone who has somehow managed to find this website. Below you can see some of his mighty meadcraft. So here’s a big skål to Stenhugger for fighting the good fight!

Lastly, for those of you that might be feeling a bit confused by the name, Stenhugger is not in the business of hugging stones. Hugg actually means something quite different in the Scandinavian languages.

Gefion Plows Hard

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

The goddess Gefion doesn’t fuck around when it comes to farming: when she plows she plows so hard that Sweden loses over 2000 square miles of its land area. This strip of land then ends up being dumped in the water next to the country’s southern tip, forming the Danish island of Zealand where the modern city of Copenhagen and the ancient seats of Norse kings, Roskilde and Lejre, can be found. Also, Hamlet’s castle is on this island, but that’s a tangent. The main point is that the residents of Copenhagen recognized the mythological importance of the ground upon which they bicycled and thus commissioned Anders Bundgaard to sculpt the masterpiece shown in these photos in Gefion’s honor. The work was actually donated by Carlsberg, the brewery, so it even has a legitimate and highly relevant relationship with beer as well which makes it even cooler.

For those of you who can stomach pseudo-phonetic imitation Mark Wahlberg rantings, Gefion was the hot chick who King Gylfi of Sweden banged at the very beginning of the Prose Edda for Bostonians. Of course I just followed Snorri’s lead in the telling of events with his statement that King Gylfi “offered a travelling woman, in return for the pleasure of her company, a piece of ploughland in his kingdom as large as four oxen could plough in a day and a night” (quoting Jesse Byock’s translation). In old-time Norse lingo the pleasure of female company does not usually refer to polite, non-physical conversation befitting British tea time. However, she’s also associated with virgins and the stories about her are contradictory in this sense.

Regardless of all that, Anders Bundgaard totally nailed her when it comes to the statue.