Thursday, March 19, 2015


Much of Icelandic art, especially early Icelandic art, reflects their pristinely bleak landscape and their mythology. Icelandic mythology is so closely related to Norse mythology that it’s pretty much the only thing that comes up when you search for it. Many of these gods and characters from Norse mythology are fairly well known: Thor and his hammer (who is also the namesake of the word “Thursday”); Odin with his one eye and pair of ravens who brings him information and gave the world the runic alphabetic; Freyja, a sorceress who wears a feather cloak; Loki, a shape-shifting trickster god; and many others. Many of these gods, demi-gods, and stories are depicted in Iceland’s earliest art. It’s not a mythology I’m too familiar with, but I find it fascinating. I think I’d really like to read more about it next.

With a dichotomy of mountains and volcanic lakes, it’s the perfect backdrop for landscape painting, which is certainly a popular style. Iceland has some of the most remote land in the world, much of it untouched by very few humans. There are many artists that have emerged who tried to capture the beauty of this island country: Thórarinn Thorláksson, Ásgrímur Jónsson, Jóhannes Kjarval, Jón Stefánsson, and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir.  During the early days, many artists went to study in Copenhagen and brought back their newly-acquired skills to Iceland. 

by Thórarinn Thorláksson

Following European trends in the art world, some Icelandic artists began to delve into abstract art during the mid-20th century.  Other artists gravitated toward a variety of modern styles such as cubism and fauvism. Of course, after a while, artists started to veer back to figurative art.  Svavar Guthnasson, Nína Tryggvadóttir, Gunnlaugur Scheving, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, and Einar Hákonarson are some of the more prominent artists of the 20th century.

I have no idea what this is, but it looks terrifying. (It might be a nightmare rendition of a walrus.)
 Early Icelandic literature was closely related to Old Norse literature. In fact a lot of it was written in Old Norse. Like much of the literature during this period, different forms of poetry was pretty much the most prominent form of literature. In Iceland, there were three main styles of poetry that emerged. 

The Eddas were important Scandinavian documents that were divided into two parts: the Poetic Edda, which were a collection of poems and stories from about the 10th century, and the Prose Edda, a collection of Norse mythological stories and Icelandic poetry. 

Skalds were Icelandic poets who mainly wrote about kings and nobility.  These poems were generally thought to be historically accurate since no one at this time would ever think about writing something untrue about their leader. (My, how things have changed, haven’t they?)

After this guy gets done, he can go attack that "walrus" above.
Sagas were long, extended poems that told epic tales of Viking voyages, historical battles, exploration, etc. Between the 9th and the 13th centuries, these sagas were the main source of information regarding the history of this area, even though sometimes the authors would add in some mythological features into the storylines. However, I’m pretty sure that most people can figure out that dragons don’t exist, so this part is clearly an embellishment. (Perhaps Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly could’ve learned this better.)

The first Bible translation was completed during the 16th century, as was a translation of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” a couple centuries later.  (I read “Paradise Lost” many years ago, along with “Paradise Regained.” If you like long, epic poems steeped with deep religious themes, then by all means, read it. I read both, crossed them off my list, and moved on to books I enjoyed far more.)  There was a rise in sacred poetry as well as rímur, which is an epic poem that consists of rhymed alliterative verses of 2-4 stanzas.

 Starting in the 1800s, Iceland saw a literary revival. Jónas Hallgrímsson was considered to be the father of the short story in Iceland, and Jón Thoroddsen published the first novel here in 1850.  The romantic period was popular in Iceland as it was in other areas of Europe, and it was followed by realism and naturalism.  Einar Benedictson was a notable neo-romantic poet.  However, many Icelandic writers began writing in Danish during the 20th century including Halldór Laxness, the recipient of the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature.  These days, crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason has reached international success with his works.  I do love a good crime novel. I think I’m going to have to see if my library (or the Kindle store) has any of his novels.

Up next: music and dance

1 comment:

  1. Norse mythology adnIcelandic mythology are the same. Most of norse/icelandic mytholigy was preserved in icelandic sagas and eddas, most notably Snorra edda.