Norway Figurative Arts Part I

By | December 17, 2021

Exceptionally vivid and naturalistic reproductions of animals, especially reindeer, are preserved painted or engraved on the rocks from the Stone Age.

The metal jewelry from the migration period (about 400-800) is distinguished by the fancy and luxurious animal ornaments that also characterize the following period, that of the Vikings (about 800-1050), as seen from the ships where the leaders of that time were buried. Especially the Oseberg ship, and the different sleds, chariots, and other objects found in it are adorned with marvelous carvings. Animal ornaments, almost the same, were also used in the early days after the introduction of Christianity, as in the church of Urnes and other sacred buildings made of wood, with a very original construction of logs arranged within frames (so-called stavkirker). The oldest of these churches are imitations of Anglo-Saxon stone churches, with a rectangular nave and a small rectangular choir. The earliest example of stone architecture was probably the church of St. Olav (now in ruins) in Trondheim, built around 1050, probably by the Normans. Then, in the first half of the century. XII, many stone churches were built in a heavy but very characteristic Romanesque style (church of Maria in Bergen). The construction of most of the Norwegian cathedrals was then started, then finished or rebuilt in the Gothic period, such as the Church of St. Magnus in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, the church of St. Svithun in Stavanger, and in Trondheim the church built in honor of the Norwegian national patron St. Olav. For Norway 1999, please check

From the end of the century. XII onwards, the bishops preferred to have their palaces built in stone; instead the kings continued to prefer national wooden architecture, until the mighty Haakon Haakonsson had the great stone palace (Haakonshàllen) built in Bergen. The king himself had great fortifications built no longer in wood or earth as before, but in stone (near Bergen, near Tønsberg, on the Ragnhild rock in Bohuslen, etc.). Even more complex were the fortresses that his nephew Haakon V (1299-1319) built in Akershus near Oslo and Båhus near Kongehelle.

Of the profane medieval buildings mainly in wood, there is little left, but it is enough to give an idea of ​​their originality: spacious rooms were used, like the Raulandstuen that can be seen at the Folklore Museum in Oslo, with benches and tables along the walls, the hearth in the middle of the room, and an opening in the ceiling which served at the same time as a fireplace and a skylight.

In the first period of the Middle Ages, stone architecture, sculpture and painting were influenced by the art and civilization of Western European countries, especially England, and part of France. From the mid-twelfth century, the wooden sculpture has a Byzantine character; while around 1200 an important Gothic sculpture develops. At the same time painting flourished, mainly represented by frontals with figures painted in tempera not without similarities with the art of the Catalans.

From the middle of the fourteenth century, German influence grew with the growing dependence of the country on the Hanseatic, and marked a decline in artistic activity. The very limited need for ornaments was mainly satisfied with the importation of sacred objects from Northern Germany and the Netherlands, while the architectural activity was reduced to a minimum.

The Renaissance also brought a process of renewal to Norway, with a sense of order and symmetry, of which the facade of the Rosenkrantz tower (1560) in Bergen is an essay. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as in the Middle Ages, few stone buildings were built. Among the most notable are the two noble castles of Østraat (1654-56) and Rosendal (1661-65). So too stone houses were built in Cristiania (as Oslo was called after its rebuilding in 1624).

In the other cities the population continued to build wooden houses in a way that did not stray far from that of peasant houses. And with the spread of the use of brick fireplaces on the wall (peis), in the city as well as in the countryside, two-storey houses began to be built, equipped with windows on the walls; and almost always with external galleries (svalganger).

At the same time, many citadels (Fredriksten, Fredrikstad, Kongsvinger, Christiansten, Munkholmen near Trondheim, etc.) of good military architecture were built in the 17th century.

Baroque sculpture produced many works in wood, figures and decorations for altars, pulpits and other church furniture. Among the artists in this field, Anders Smith of Stavanger (died 1695) deserves special mention.

Painting also adorned altarpieces and other church objects, often resorting to reproducing foreign prints. However, there was no lack of original works, especially in the portrait, of which the most notable representative was Elias Fiigenschoug (circa 1640-60) of Bergen.

With the eighteenth century came a period of economic prosperity which greatly benefited architecture. Next to the Kongsberg silver mines, the large, richly decorated brick church was built in 1740-61 to a design by the mine director von Stuckenbrock. However, construction continued mainly in wood, often generally imitating foreign stone architecture. The main work of this period is the Stiftsgården in Trondheim (1774-78), where the Louis XVI style appears precociously and with finesse alongside a robust Rococo. In connection with the flourishing iron industry are the figured reliefs of which the plates of the stoves were decorated. Also very noteworthy is the ornamental wooden sculpture dear to folk art, especially in the Gudbrandsdalen.

In the field of painting, the art of portraiture continued to occupy a great place, while decorative wall painting also acquired great importance. Among the artists, Mathias Blumenthal (1719-63), HCF Hosenfeller (around 1722-1801), Peder Aadnes (1739-92), a very talented farmer deserve special mention. The imaginative painting of flowers was very popular in popular art, to which we also owe magnificent fabrics with stylized figures and ornamental designs. The products of the Herreboe majolica factory and glassworks also show high artistic qualities.

Norway Figurative Arts