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date: 15 November 2019

Urnes [now Ornes]locked

  • James Graham-Campbell
  •  and Erla Bergendahl Hohler


[now Ornes]

Site of a stave church in Sogn, western Norway. The carved ornament on the exterior of the church gave its name to the last of the Viking-period art styles of Scandinavia.

James Graham-Campbell

The present building is a mid-12th-century stave church (see §2 below), but it incorporates decorated timbers from its 11th-century predecessor. These consist of the portal and door, with two planks, in the north wall of the church, the north-west corner post, and the gables at the east and west ends of the church. The portal, planks, and corner post are carved in high, rounded relief (up to 120 mm deep), while the gables and door are executed in the contrasting technique of low, flat relief. The composition schemes and motifs used are, however, the same.

Urnes-style designs are composed of open ‘interpenetrating loops’ consisting of two intersecting loops (or figures-of-eight) or of more complex multi-loop schemes. These patterns of fluent curves are given an additional elegance and sense of movement by the characteristic use of two line widths, which may also gradually swell and taper. The Urnes phase of Viking art represents a re-assertion of the native Scandinavian tradition at the expense of the European influences that had been particularly evident in the preceding Ringerike style phase of the first half of the 11th century, with its lavish use of foliate motifs. The Urnes style is dominated by animal motifs in three main varieties, all of which are used by the Urnes sculptor: a standing quadruped, a ribbon-shaped animal, and a snake. These animals frequently bite one another so as to complete the loop schemes (...

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