From its ancient origins to its constant evolutionary flux to its later impact – both medieval and modern – this is a tour de force of a softer side of the Viking story.

Time for a rethink on Vikings?

Whilst the Vikings often get a bad rap for being brainless destroyers, the real history of people from Viking societies is much more complex and sophisticated. 

Linking the Europe of Late Antiquity and the High Middle Ages, the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100) was two and a half centuries of social, cultural, and artistic flux.

A history of the Vikings' political and military conquests has been told many times over. Hence, it is refreshing that James Graham-Campbell takes up the challenge of helping to explain, in detail, the world of Viking art in his book, World of Art: Viking Art.

No, we are not talking about horned helmets and Thor's costumes from the recent Marvel movies. We are talking about six styles of art that dominated wherever people from Viking societies dominated, from the British Isles to the Black Sea.

The latest addition to the World of Art series tries to capitalize on the recent boom in all things Vikings, from a horde of books to numerous Hollywood movies, Netflix series, and even podcasts. 

However, unlike more "common" forms of entertainment, James Graham-Campbell is on an artistic mission to help us moderns understand the subtleties and skill of what people in Viking societies produced over a 300-odd-year period.

Undergoing restoration in 2014, the Løvehodet post, originating from the renowned Oseberg burial, showcases the rich artistic heritage of the Oseberg style. Photo: Mårten Teigen / Kulturhistorisk museum, UiO (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The story of Viking art in six styles

Though the six styles (Oseberg, Borre, Jellinge, Mammen, Ringerike, and Urnes) are a recent classification, they span (and often overlap) the period that saw the dominance of people from Viking societies throughout much of Europe and beyond. 

Each is named after a specific find or region (Oseberg was named after archaeologists uncovered a beautifully carved and decorated Viking ship a century ago). 

Viking Art is an excellent introduction to the historical milieu that saw the evolution of these medieval art styles. 

With more than 200 high-quality depictions – everything from the elaborately carved figurehead of the Oseberg ship to the stunning "Greek" runestones from Gotland in Sweden, readers have multiple examples of the highly skilled qualities and professionalism of Viking artisans and artists.

Throughout Viking art, there are broad historical brushstrokes (pardon the pun) explaining how the spread of Christianity into these northern pagan societies influenced and affected art styles. 

There was a period when both Christian and pagan art became intertwined, with one of the striking examples being the delicately interior carvings – a mixture of Old Norse and Christian religious motifs - of the Urnes Stave Church.

For those wanting to brush up (this time, pun intended) on their knowledge of Viking art and its history or simply to peruse through the 230 illustrations of the gorgeous artwork, this book cannot be highly recommended enough. 

World of Art: Viking Art by James Graham-Campbell, published by Thames & Hudson in 2021, can be purchased on Amazon here.

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