Sunday, January 24, 2010

Norse Mythology

The construction of a national identity is normally connected with a search for the own cultural roots. Especially in northern Europe and in Germany this led to a fascination for pre Christian Nordic mythology – Wagner is only the best known example.

In Norway Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892) painted historical patriotic scenes and not least the recently rediscovered Nordic gods. Most famous he became for his big painting Åsgårdsreien (1872) which pretended to show Odin’s Wild Hunt.

Because of the barbarian subject and the obscure scenery it’s still very popular serving as a kind of pre-fantasy-painting. For example it was used as cover for the album Blood Fire Death by the Swedish band Bathory.

But at a little closer look there remains not much of that pretended reanimation of Nordic traditions. The whole composition and most of the figures derive from baroque ceiling paintings. There is nothing barbarian in it, there is nothing “Nordic”, there are the same Olympic gods hunting some naked puttis or nymphs.

The thing is even more obvious regarding Arbo’s painting Valkyrien (1865).

The cruel Nordic war spirit looks neither warlike nor awesome, it’s at last a rosy baroque angel or allegory. It’s ridiculous.


  1. I don't know if I would call it ridiculous, but I think that you are right in that is lacks a certain barbarity. A warrior like that is not going to frighten anyone - she is simply too nice.

  2. Above all I called it "ridiculous" because these neo-nordic artists pretented to be so anti-roman, but they have passed through the same academies, the same artistic training. And so they painted the same stuff only in new costumes.