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Art & Culture in Viking Times

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

Art made by Scandinavians during the Viking Age (c. 790-1100 CE) mostly encompassed the decoration of functional objects made of wood, metal, stone, textile and other materials with relief carvings, engravings of animal shapes and abstract patterns.

Several succeeding and sometimes overlapping styles have been identified within Viking Age decorative art, usually named after the finding place of a famous example of that style, such as:

  • Style E (late 8th century CE-late 9th century CE). Important finds from Broa (Gotland, Sweden) and the Oseberg ship burial (Norway); long animal bodies; small heads in profile with bulging eyes; 'gripping-beasts' with muscular bodies and claws gripping everything nearby.

  • The Borre Style (c. 850-late 10th century CE). Ribbon plait ('ring-chain', a symmetrical interlaced pattern); a single gripping-beast with triangular head and contorted body; most widespread of all the styles, found throughout Scandinavia and across the Viking colonies.

  • The Jelling Style (just before 900-end of the 10th century CE). Beast with a ribbon-like body; head seen in profile; usually double-contoured body which is beaded; closely related to and overlapping with the Borre style.

  • The Mammen Style (c. 950-1000 CE). Great, fighting beasts; spiral-shaped shoulders and hips; often asymmetrical; vigorous and dynamic; ribbon- and plant elements.

  • The Ringerike Style (c. 990-1050 CE). Large animal in dynamic pose; movement; powerful and elegant; plant ornament; popular in England and especially Ireland.

  • The Urnes Style (c. 1040-at least 1100 CE). Also named 'runestone style'; very elegant; asymmetrical; motif of the great beast; interweaving, looped snakes and tendrils; very popular in Ireland.

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