Scandinavian art and architecture

Scandinavian art and architecture,

works of art and structures created in the Scandinavian area of Europe.

Early History

The Scandinavian countries are rich in artifacts and objects of archaeological interest dating from the end of the Ice Age through the Bronze Age, the Celtic and Germanic Iron Ages, and the Viking period. Viking art (c.800–c.1050) is characterized by dynamic geometric design of considerable complexity and sophistication and the ingenious use of animal forms. It bears a clear relationship to other European trends, particularly to Hiberno-Saxon illuminationillumination,
in art, decoration of manuscripts and books with colored, gilded pictures, often referred to as miniatures (see miniature painting); historiated and decorated initials; and ornamental border designs.
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. Numerous fine examples of early Scandinavian art are in the collections of the museums of Copenhagen and Stockholm.

The Early Christian Period

Church building became the principal artistic activity when Scandinavia was Christianized in the 11th cent. The wooden stavkirkestavkirke
[Nor.], medieval wooden church building of Scandinavian countries. Of hundreds erected in the 11th, 12th, and 13th cent., only a score survive, and these are all in Norway.
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, a medieval church decorated with grotesque figures, is unique to this region; examples remain only in Norway, where it was most prevalent. The cathedral at Lund, Sweden, begun in 1085, reveals Lombard influence; Gothic elements predominate in the cathedrals of Linköping and Skara. The island of Gotland produced numerous sculptural and architectural masterworks of the Gothic period. The cathedral at Trondheim, begun in the 12th cent., bears a resemblance to English Gothic architecture, particularly to Lincoln Cathedral. Uppsala Cathedral was built by French architects.

The Renaissance and Baroque Period

Foreign stylistic influence persisted through the Renaissance and baroque periods, the North German school of Lübeck becoming more and more the chief source for Scandinavian styles. Castles such as Gripsholm exemplify this borrowing habit. Great castle-building activity was instigated by the Danish and Swedish rulers of the 16th to 18th cent.; outstanding examples include Kronborg (c.1570–1590) and Fredriksborg (c.1560–1620) castles and the rebuilt castle of Stockholm (1690–1708; 1727–53).

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

In the 18th and 19th cent. native artists began to gain international prestige. From Denmark the neoclassicist sculptor A. B. ThorvaldsenThorvaldsen or Thorwaldsen, Albert Bertel
, 1770–1844, Danish sculptor, b. Copenhagen. In 1797 he went to Rome, where he shared with Canova the leadership of the neoclassicists.
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 taught and worked in Rome, wielding enormous stylistic influence. The painters Christoffer EckersbergEckersberg, Christoffer Vilhelm
, 1783–1853, Danish painter. He studied with J. L. David in Paris and in Rome became a friend of Thorvaldsen. After his return to Denmark (1816) he taught at the Copenhagen Academy, becoming its director.
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 and N. A. AbildgaardAbildgaard, Nikolaj Abraham
, 1743–1809, Danish painter of the neoclassical school. He was a student of Eckersberg. Among his own pupils was Thorvaldsen, whom he greatly influenced. Abildgaard's work may be seen in the House of Representatives in Copenhagen.
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 were prominent, as were the architects C. F. Harsdorff and C. E. Hansen. The academy of Copenhagen attracted students from Germany, including the painters P. O. Runge and C. D. Friedrich.

Norway produced its best-known artists late in the 19th cent.—most notably the sculptors Stephan Sinding and A. G. VigelandVigeland, Gustav
, 1869–1943, Norwegian sculptor. Vigeland's sculpture owed much to Rodin in stylistic realism but was imbued with an unrestrained romanticism and emotionalism that far surpassed Rodin's.
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 and the protoexpressionist painter Edvard MunchMunch, Edvard
, 1863–1944, Norwegian painter and graphic artist. He studied in Oslo and under Bonnat in Paris, traveled in Europe, and lived in Berlin from 1892 to 1908.
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. Significant Swedish artists included the sculptor J. T. SergelSergel, Johan Tobias
, 1740–1814, Swedish sculptor. He studied (1767–79) in Rome, and much of his sculpture is in the neoclassical style. His subjects, other than portraits, are drawn from classical history and mythology.
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 and, in the late 19th and early 20th cent., the painters A. L. ZornZorn, Anders Leonhard
, 1860–1920, Swedish painter, etcher, and sculptor. Zorn's early and phenomenal popularity was sustained throughout his career as a portrait painter of eminent persons in all fields.
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 and Carl LarssonLarsson, Carl
, 1853–1919, Swedish painter and illustrator. He was a popular and imaginative illustrator and was equally successful as a watercolorist. In watercolor he painted exquisite interiors that influenced Swedish decorative arts.
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The Twentieth Century

The Swedish sculptor Carl MillesMilles, Carl
, 1875–1955, Swedish-American sculptor, whose name originally was Carl Emil Wilhelm Anderson. Influenced by Rodin, he studied in Paris from 1897 until 1904, when he returned to Stockholm.
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, who worked extensively in the United States, was among the most notable Scandinavian artists of the early part of the century. Since World War II various strains of abstraction have been developed by a number of Scandinavian artists.

The inventive use of traditional and regional forms within the plain vocabulary of brick construction led to a rejuvenation of Scandinavian architecture in the early 20th cent. with the works of P. V. J. Klint of Denmark and Ragnar Ostberg, Sigfrid Ericsson, and, above all, E. G. AsplundAsplund, Erik Gunnar
, 1885–1940, Swedish architect. He designed the central library of Stockholm (completed 1928), but he is best known for the group of pavilions that he planned for the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930.
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 of Sweden. The Finnish architects Eliel SaarinenSaarinen, Eliel
, 1873–1950, Finnish-American architect and city planner, resident of the United States after 1923. In Finland, Saarinen's most celebrated building was the railway station in Helsinki.
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 and Alvar AaltoAalto, Alvar
, 1898–1976, Finnish architect and furniture designer. Aalto is considered one of the foremost architects of the 20th cent. Most of his designs were made in collaboration with his first wife, Aino Maria Marsio, 1894–1949, the celebrated furniture
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 influenced Scandinavian design profoundly and have international acclaim for establishing an unquestionably new architecture. Modern Scandinavian furniture and applied arts, particularly glassmaking, metalwork, woodwork, and ceramics, have been widely imitated for their simplicity and purity of line.


See The Art of Scandinavia, Vol. I by P. Anker (tr. 1970), Vol. II by A. Andersson (tr. 1970); M. C. Donnelly, Architecture in the Scandinavian Countries (1992).

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