viking art styles

Aesthetic Legacies: Understanding Different Viking Art Styles

The Viking era is famous for its rich and diverse art styles that continue to captivate people’s attention to this day. From intricate animal motifs to ornamental designs and symbolic rune carvings, the art of the Vikings is a fascinating and multifaceted world of creativity and symbolism. In this article, we will explore the origins and significance of Viking art styles, highlighting their cultural importance and lasting legacy.

Key Takeaways

  • Viking art styles are diverse and multifaceted, comprising various techniques and motifs.
  • Viking art is a significant part of Norse cultural heritage and mythology.
  • The art of the Vikings has influenced later art movements and continues to inspire contemporary artists and designers.

Origins of Viking Art

The Viking art style originated from the Scandinavian countries during the Viking Age. This period, also known as the “Viking Era,” lasted from the late eighth to the mid-11th centuries and was characterized by widespread trading, raiding, and conquests. The Vikings’ interaction with other cultures, including the Celts, Saxons, and Franks, heavily influenced their art.

One of the significant pre-existing art styles that influenced Viking art was the Germanic art style, which employed complex interlacing patterns. The Vikings adopted these styles and developed them further to create their unique art forms.

Viking art was also influenced by their religious beliefs, particularly their belief in Norse mythology. The Vikings’ obsession with the afterlife and their gods was reflected in their art, through the depiction of gods such as Thor and Odin, and mythical creatures such as dragons and serpents.

The Vikings used a variety of materials to create their art. They carved wood, sculpted in stone, and used silver, bronze, and gold for metalwork. They employed different techniques such as filigree, repoussé, and cloisonné to add intricate details to their work.

As Viking art evolved, their style became increasingly complex, with greater emphasis on intricate patterns and animal motifs. The Vikings’ art style also varied across different regions, reflecting local traditions and influences.

Origins of Viking Art

The origins of Viking art can be traced back to the Iron Age (circa 500 BCE to the early Middle Ages), with the emergence of the Germanic art style in Scandinavia. Germanic art was characterized by intricate interlacing patterns, animal motifs, and geometric shapes.

The Vikings adopted these styles, adding their own flair and incorporating Norse mythology into their artwork. Viking art featured depictions of gods and mythical creatures, heavily influenced by their religion and their perception of the afterlife.

The Vikings’ interactions with other cultures, particularly the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, also influenced their art style. The Vikings incorporated elements of these cultures into their artwork, while also exchanging ideas and techniques with them.

With the Vikings’ extensive trading and raiding activities during the Viking Age, their art style spread across Europe and beyond. Today, Viking art continues to inspire artists and designers, reflecting its enduring legacy.

Viking Animal Art: Exploring the Symbolism and Significance

One of the most distinctive features of Viking art styles is the intricate animal designs that are commonly found in various artifacts. These designs showcase the skill and creativity of Viking artisans, as well as the cultural importance of animals in Viking societies.

Animal motifs were used extensively in Viking art, appearing on everything from weapons and jewelry to textiles and household items. These motifs varied widely, with some animals representing specific concepts or ideas, while others were simply decorative elements.

One of the most common animal motifs in Viking art is the serpent, which was often used to symbolize power and strength. Serpents were commonly depicted on weapons and armor, serving as a warning to enemies of the fierce strength and tenacity of Viking warriors.

Other popular animal motifs in Viking art include birds, horses, wolves, and bears. These animals were often used to symbolize various virtues or qualities, such as courage, loyalty, and perseverance.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Viking animal art is the way in which animals were often depicted in highly stylized and abstract forms. This allowed Viking artisans to convey complex concepts and ideas through visual symbolism, creating a rich and multifaceted artistic tradition.

Examples of Viking Animal Art

One of the most impressive examples of Viking animal art can be found on the Oseberg ship, a well-preserved Viking Age vessel now housed at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. The ship is decorated with intricate animal carvings, including a large dragon’s head at the front of the vessel.

Another stunning example of Viking animal art can be found on the Gosforth Cross, a large stone cross located in Cumbria, England. The cross is decorated with intricate carvings that depict various scenes from Norse mythology, including the story of Sigurd slaying the dragon Fafnir.

These examples showcase the intricate and highly skilled craftsmanship that characterized Viking animal art. They also highlight the cultural significance of animals in Viking societies, as well as the rich symbolism and meaning behind these intricate designs.

Overall, Viking animal art represents a fascinating and multifaceted aspect of Viking art styles. By exploring the symbolism and significance of these intricate designs, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex cultural traditions that shaped Viking societies.

Symbolic Rune Carvings in Viking Art

Viking art is characterized by its intricate designs and ornamental motifs, many of which incorporate symbolic rune carvings. These runes are an ancient form of writing used by the Norse people, consisting of a series of straight lines and angles that represent different letters and sounds.

The use of these runes in Viking art goes beyond mere decoration. They were believed to have spiritual and magical properties, with each rune having a specific meaning and significance. For example, the rune for “wealth” was often carved into Viking jewelry and other precious items, in the hopes of bringing good fortune and prosperity.

Symbolic rune carvings were also used to tell stories and convey important messages. Many Viking artifacts feature elaborate runic inscriptions, such as the famous Rök stone in Sweden which tells the story of the heroic warrior, Vämod.

The use of runes in Viking art is deeply connected to Norse mythology and spirituality. Many of the runes correspond to the names of gods and goddesses, and were seen as a way of invoking their power and protection. For example, the rune for “protection” was often inscribed on weapons and other items of war, as a means of invoking the protection of the god Odin.

Overall, the use of symbolic rune carvings in Viking art adds an extra layer of depth and meaning to these already fascinating works of art. They serve as a testament to the rich cultural heritage and spiritual beliefs of the Norse people, and continue to inspire contemporary artists and designers today.

Ornamental Styles and Patterns

The ornamental styles and intricate patterns found in Viking art are arguably some of the most visually striking features of this artistic tradition. From the intricate knotwork designs to the stylized depictions of animals and mythical creatures, Viking artists utilized a variety of techniques to create their ornamental motifs.

One of the distinctive features of Viking art styles is the use of repetition and symmetry in their ornamental designs. Knotwork patterns, for example, often involve the repeated use of interlocking lines or curves to create complex geometric shapes. These designs were used in a variety of contexts, including on jewelry, weapons, and even the carved panels that adorned the walls of Viking longhouses.

In addition to knotwork, Viking art styles also incorporated a range of other ornamental patterns and motifs. These included designs inspired by the natural world, such as depictions of animals or plant life, as well as abstract patterns and shapes. The use of contrasting colors and textures, such as the combination of polished metal with darkened or textured surfaces, added further depth and detail to these ornamental works of art.

Overall, the ornamental styles and patterns found in Viking art represent a unique blend of artistic tradition and cultural symbolism. Whether inspired by the natural world or by abstract geometric shapes, these ornamental motifs continue to inspire contemporary artists and designers today.

Iconography in Viking Art

Viking art is characterized by its intricate designs and rich symbolism, which often includes depictions of gods, heroes, and legendary creatures. These iconographic elements were essential to conveying the stories and myths that were central to Norse culture.

One of the most popular figures in Viking art is Odin, the Allfather and god of wisdom and war. He is often depicted with his two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who represent thought and memory. Other gods and goddesses that appear frequently in Viking art include Thor, Freyja, and Loki.

Viking art also includes numerous depictions of legendary creatures from Norse mythology, such as dragons, serpents, and giants. These creatures were often used to symbolize power, strength, and danger.

Examples of Iconography in Viking Art

One example of the use of iconography in Viking art is the Oseberg Tapestry, a large woolen tapestry that dates back to the 9th century. The tapestry depicts a variety of scenes from Norse mythology, including images of Odin on his horse Sleipnir and Thor battling the giant Hrungnir.

Another example is the Gosforth Cross, an intricately carved stone cross from the 10th century. The cross features a variety of iconographic elements, including images of Christ, runes, and scenes from Norse mythology, such as the god Odin being devoured by Fenrir, the giant wolf.

Symbolism in Iconography

Iconography in Viking art often had deeper symbolic meanings and was used to convey cultural values and beliefs. For example, the depiction of Odin with his two ravens symbolized the importance of wisdom and memory in Norse culture.

Similarly, the image of Fenrir swallowing Odin was used to represent the cyclical nature of life and death and the inevitability of Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse.

The intricate symbolism and storytelling elements present in Viking art make it a truly unique and fascinating art form, rich with cultural significance and historical significance.

Regional Variations in Viking Art

Viking art styles varied across different regions and settlements, influenced by local traditions and cultural exchanges. The Vikings, being seafarers, traveled extensively and encountered diverse cultures, which had an impact on their art.

In Ireland, for instance, Viking art styles incorporated elements of Celtic art, which they encountered during their raids. The art of the Viking kingdom of Dublin, for example, has distinctive Celtic influences.

In contrast, the Viking art of Denmark and Norway was more influenced by the Germanic and Scandinavian artistic traditions. Viking art from these regions featured intricate metalwork and animal motifs, typical of these areas.

The Viking art of Sweden, on the other hand, featured more geometric and abstract designs, which were often used in combination with animal motifs.

Regional variations can also be seen in the materials used for Viking art. For example, in Scotland, where there was a shortage of metal, Vikings used locally sourced materials such as bone, antler and whale tooth for their carvings.

These regional variations in Viking art styles and materials highlight the complexity and diversity of Viking culture. They also show how Viking art was influenced and shaped by the artistic traditions of the places they visited and settled in, while still maintaining their own unique style.

Use of Materials and Techniques

One of the defining characteristics of Viking art styles is the unique combination of materials and techniques used in creating them. Metalwork was a popular medium, with intricate patterns and designs carved into silver, gold, and bronze objects such as swords, brooches, and drinking horns.

Wood carving was another favored technique, with intricate designs adorning wooden furniture, carvings, and sculptures. Some of the most exquisite examples of Viking art include the Borgund Stave Church in Norway, which features elaborate wooden carvings of dragons and other mythical creatures.

Stone carving was also prevalent, with runestones and other stone carvings showcasing intricate designs and symbols. These carvings often depicted scenes from Norse mythology or important historical events.

Distinct Techniques

Each of these techniques requires a high level of skill and craftsmanship, with many examples showcasing the intricate attention to detail and careful precision of Viking artisans. The materials themselves were often precious and rare, with many objects made from materials sourced from far-off regions of the Viking world.

The combination of unique materials and techniques is what gives Viking art styles their distinctive character and visual impact. The intricate interplay of animal motifs, runic carvings, and ornamental patterns create a captivating visual language all their own, one that continues to inspire and influence artists to this day.

Viking Art and Norse Mythology

Viking art is closely intertwined with Norse mythology, reflecting the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the Viking people. Many of the iconic images in Viking art are representations of gods, heroes, and legendary creatures from Norse mythology.

The Norse pantheon was vast, with gods and goddesses associated with different aspects of life and nature. The most famous of these deities is undoubtedly Odin, the All-Father, who presided over war, wisdom, and death. Odin is often depicted in Viking art, usually with his characteristic single eye and two ravens on his shoulders, Huginn and Muninn, representing thought and memory, respectively. Another popular figure in Viking art is Thor, the god of thunder and protector of mankind, known for his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

Aside from the gods, Viking art also features depictions of mythological creatures like dragons, serpents, and giants. These creatures were often seen as powerful symbols of chaos and destruction, and the Vikings used their images to intimidate their enemies in battle.

In addition to representing mythological figures, Viking art also told stories from Norse mythology through intricate patterns and images. For example, the story of Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and the giants, is depicted in many Viking art pieces, with images of epic battles and destruction.

The use of mythology in Viking art was not just for aesthetic purposes, but also had a deeper cultural significance. By depicting their mythological stories and beliefs, the Vikings were preserving their cultural heritage and passing down their traditions to future generations.

Legacy of Viking Art Styles

Viking art styles have left a significant cultural legacy that continues to inspire and captivate people of all ages and backgrounds. From the intricate animal motifs and symbolic rune carvings to the ornamental styles and patterns, Viking art is a testament to the creativity and artistry of this fascinating civilization.

While Viking art was initially created for functional purposes such as religious rituals and practical objects, its aesthetic value and cultural significance have endured throughout history.

The influence of Viking art can be seen in many art styles and movements, from the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to contemporary Norse-inspired artwork. The intricate patterns and stylized depictions of legendary creatures and heroes have become iconic and recognizable symbols of Viking art and culture.

Moreover, the legacy of Viking art extends beyond artistic inspiration. It also provides valuable insights into the cultural and religious beliefs of the Viking people. By studying Viking art, we can gain a deeper understanding of their mythology and spiritual practices, as well as their daily lives and interactions with the natural world.

Overall, the legacy of Viking art styles serves as a testament to the enduring impact of this fascinating civilization. Its influence can be seen in art, design, and popular culture, and its significance continues to be celebrated and appreciated by people around the world.

Contemporary Interpretations of Viking Art

Viking art styles continue to inspire artists and designers around the world, and there are countless contemporary interpretations of these ancient motifs. From jewelry and clothing to home decor and tattoo designs, Viking art continues to influence modern aesthetics.

Many contemporary artists draw inspiration from the intricate and bold animal designs that are characteristic of Viking art styles. Some integrate these motifs into modern designs, such as incorporating Viking-style dragons or ravens into graphic posters or album covers. Others create new designs that are inspired by Vikings, but with a modern twist, such as using geometric shapes or minimalist designs in their artwork.

The Viking tradition of carving runes and other symbols into their art has also inspired many contemporary artists. Some tattoo artists have incorporated Viking symbolism into their designs, such as using runes to create bold and meaningful tattoos. Others use Viking runes and symbols in their graphic design work, creating logos or artwork for companies or events that draw inspiration from Viking culture.

Contemporary interpretations of Viking art styles are not limited to visual art. Many musicians and bands have drawn inspiration from Viking mythology and aesthetics in their music and performance styles. Some incorporate traditional Viking instruments, such as horns and drums, into their music. Others use lyrics and themes that draw from Viking mythology, such as songs about Norse gods or battles.

Viking art styles continue to evolve and inspire artists from all over the world. By drawing from the rich history and cultural significance of Viking art, these contemporary artists are keeping the tradition alive and bringing new life to these ancient designs.

Understanding the Multifaceted World of Viking Art Styles

Throughout this article, we have explored the rich and diverse world of Viking art styles. From the origins of Viking art to the intricate animal designs, symbolic rune carvings, ornamental styles, and regional variations, we have gained a deeper understanding of the cultural and historical significance of these art forms.

It is important to appreciate the multifaceted nature of Viking art styles as a means of preserving our cultural heritage and fostering artistic inspiration. By exploring the different styles, techniques, and themes present in Viking art, we can gain a deeper appreciation of the artistic traditions and cultural influences that shaped these artworks.

Furthermore, as we have seen in this article, Viking art styles continue to inspire and influence contemporary artists and designers worldwide. From fashion to furniture design, Viking art styles have found new and creative interpretations in modern times.

In conclusion, by understanding the diverse range of Viking art styles, we can gain a greater appreciation of the cultural and artistic legacy of the Vikings. We can also gain insight into the ways in which historical art forms continue to inspire and influence contemporary aesthetic expressions. Let us continue to explore and appreciate the multifaceted world of Viking art styles.


Q: What are Viking art styles?

A: Viking art styles refer to the various artistic traditions and techniques used by the Vikings during the Viking Age (793-1066 AD). These styles encompass a wide range of visual motifs and design elements, including animal art, rune carvings, ornamental patterns, and iconography.

Q: What is the origin of Viking art?

A: Viking art has its roots in the rich cultural heritage of the Norse people. Influenced by a blend of Germanic, Celtic, and Scandinavian artistic traditions, Viking art developed into a distinct style that reflected the unique worldview and mythological beliefs of the Vikings.

Q: What is Viking animal art?

A: Viking animal art is a prominent feature of Viking art styles. It involves intricate and stylized depictions of animals, often with interwoven patterns and symbolism. These animal motifs can be found on various Viking artifacts, such as jewelry, weapons, and runestones.

Q: What are symbolic rune carvings?

A: Symbolic rune carvings are inscriptions or markings made using the runic alphabet, a writing system used by the ancient Germanic peoples, including the Vikings. These runic carvings often held deep symbolic meanings, serving as expressions of spiritual beliefs, protection, and communication.

Q: What are the ornamental styles and patterns in Viking art?

A: Viking art is known for its intricate and ornate decorative styles and patterns. These designs often feature interlacing knots, geometric shapes, and zoomorphic motifs. Ornamental styles and patterns were used to adorn objects like jewelry, wood carvings, and metalwork.

Q: What is the significance of iconography in Viking art?

A: Iconography played a crucial role in Viking art, with depictions of gods, heroes, and mythical creatures serving as narrative symbols and cultural references. These visual representations conveyed stories from Norse mythology and reflected the Vikings’ religious beliefs and heroic ideals.

Q: Were there regional variations in Viking art?

A: Yes, there were regional variations in Viking art due to the diverse cultural influences and local traditions within Viking settlements and regions. Different areas had their own distinct styles and characteristics, showcasing the creative adaptation of artistic techniques and motifs.

Q: What materials and techniques were used in Viking art?

A: Viking art was crafted using various materials, including metal, wood, and stone. Metalwork, such as jewelry and weapons, showcased intricate filigree and repoussé techniques. Woodcarving produced detailed embellishments on furniture and ships, while stone carving adorned runestones and sculptures.

Q: How is Viking art connected to Norse mythology?

A: Viking art often depicted scenes and symbols from Norse mythology, showcasing the close connection between art and mythology in Viking culture. These depictions brought mythological stories and divine beings to life, providing a visual representation of the Norse gods and their narratives.

Q: What is the legacy of Viking art styles?

A: The legacy of Viking art styles can be seen in the lasting influence they have had on later art movements and cultural expressions. Viking art continues to inspire contemporary artists and designers, preserving the cultural heritage of the Norse people and serving as a source of artistic inspiration.

Q: How is Viking art interpreted in contemporary times?

A: Contemporary interpretations of Viking art can be seen in modern artistic expressions, such as jewelry design, tattoo art, and Norse-inspired fashion. Many artists and designers draw inspiration from Viking art styles, adapting them to create unique and modern interpretations.

Q: Why is it important to understand Viking art styles?

A: Understanding Viking art styles is essential for preserving cultural heritage and appreciating the artistic achievements of the Norse people. By studying and appreciating Viking art, we gain insights into their beliefs, traditions, and creative expressions, fostering a deeper understanding of our shared history.