In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Viking Art

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Narrative and Figural Art
  • Dating
  • Symbolism

Art History Viking Art
James Graham-Campbell, Jane Kershaw
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0074


Viking Art refers to the visual art produced by those of Scandinavian origin or descent, both at home and abroad, during the Viking Age (c. 800–1100). The term refers not to art in the sense of fine art or painting but to decoration, for almost all the artifacts decorated with Viking art styles also have a practical function—ornamental metalwork such as jewelry being the most common because it was frequently deposited in graves to accompany the dead. We also see Viking art on stone monuments such as memorials and, much more rarely because of poorer rates of survival, on wooden furniture and ships. Almost all of these objects have been recovered through archaeology, and thus the study of Viking art and archaeology are closely interrelated. The study of Viking art is chiefly concerned with style. In their 1966 survey, David Wilson and Ole Klindt-Jensen carried out the first systematic characterization of the subject in English, identifying a series of successive art styles by way of their diagnostic motifs, regional expressions, and date range and positioning Viking art within a continuum of Germanic animal art stretching back to the Scandinavian Migration Period of the 5th century (Viking Art, cited under General Overviews). This approach is still favored by most (see especially works by David Wilson, Signe Horn Fuglesang, and James Graham-Campbell). One notable advance is that the chronology of Viking art has been refined by recent dendrochronological (tree-ring) dating (see Dendrochronological Dating of the Viking-Age Ship Burials at Oseberg, Gokstad and Tune, Norway; Tiere—Menschen—Götter: Wikingerzeitliche Kunststile und ihre neuzeitliche Rezeption; Developments around the Baltic and the North Sea in the Viking Age, all cited under Dating). Significantly, scholars have also begun to interpret “meaning” in Viking art’s motifs, figures, and narratives (see Viking Art, cited under General Overviews, and entries under Symbolism) although overall this topic attracts surprisingly little attention. Both approaches are, however, reflected in this article, which aims to balance a subject bibliography for each major stylistic phase (Oseberg, Borre, Jellinge, Mammen, Ringerike, and Urnes) with an emphasis on message, media, and craftsmanship.

General Overviews

Most of the following overviews treat Viking art as a series of overlapping stylistic phases, providing introductions to each phase’s motifs, date range, and regional expression. The best starting point for this subject and an essential reference is Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1980. Wilson is one of the world’s leading authorities on Viking art; a more recent synopsis by him can be found in Wilson 2008 and, for Swedish-language readers, Wilson 1995. Graham-Campbell, et al. 1996 is also an authoritative introduction to the subject and should be consulted by those interested in a particular region or medium. Anker 1970 places Viking-Age art in its historical context. Graham-Campbell 2021 is the most up-to-date account, concluding with a chapter on “Content: Pagan to Christian.”

  • Anker, Peter. The Art of Scandinavia. Vol. 1, The Historical Background. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1970.

    Originally published in French as part of the Zodiaque series in 1969, this is the first volume (to 1200 CE) of a two-part survey of medieval art in Scandinavia (including tapestries and stave-church architecture), containing an introduction to and an outline of Viking art and notable for its chapter on figurative art.

  • Graham-Campbell, James. Viking Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2021.

    Recently revised guide to Viking art by one of the leading authorities (originally published in 2013). Viking art is presented as a series of overlapping stylistic phases and is brought fully up to date by the inclusion of new finds. A separate chapter considers the meaning of Viking art, including narrative and figural scenes, and connections between art and religious belief. An essential and accessible account, also valuable for its many color illustrations, maps, and suggestions for further reading.

  • Graham-Campbell, James, Signe Horn Fuglesang, Ingmar Jansson, and Helen Clarke. “Viking Art.” In Oxford Art Online: Grove Art Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

    Useful encyclopedia entry with multiple contributing authors, notably Signe Horn Fuglesang. Not only considers the phases of Viking ornament but also devotes separate sections to recurring motifs (e.g., masks, plant motifs), production techniques for different media, and regional surveys. The account of Viking art east of the Baltic is especially useful as such descriptions in English are otherwise rare. A subject bibliography, only up to date as of 1996, follows each section. Available online by subscription.

  • Wilson, David M. Vikingetidens Konst. Signums svenska konsthistoria 2. Lund, Sweden: Bokförlaget Signum, 1995.

    An updated account (from Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1980) of the relative sequence of Viking-Age ornament, detailing its origins, motifs, and dating. As part of a series on Swedish art, the book concentrates on the manifestation of each style as it is found in Sweden, including a separate chapter on Gotland “picture-stones.” In Swedish. No English summary, but the book contains many color plates and a good bibliography.

  • Wilson, David M. “The Development of Viking Art.” In The Viking World. Edited by Stefan Brink with Neil Price, 323–338. London: Routledge, 2008.

    Concise account of the origins, appearance, and date of the different phases of Viking art, beginning with Style E (Oseberg and Broa styles). A much-abridged summary version of Wilson’s book-length Swedish-language publication of 1995 (Wilson 1995) and a useful starting point.

  • Wilson, David M., and Ole Klindt-Jensen. Viking Art. 2d ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.

    Still an authoritative and essential account of the stylistic phases of Viking-Age animal art, despite its age. Klindt-Jensen surveys pre-Viking art and the Oseberg style, while Wilson devotes separate chapters to each successive Viking-Age style, from Borre to Urnes. Characterized by detailed, formal stylistic descriptions, which are useful for identifying diagnostic features. The black-and-white plates at the back include most of the relevant artifacts known at the time and are a valuable resource in their own right. First published in 1966 (London: George Allen and Unwin).

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