Viking Age Tapestries: 5. Modern Day Tapestries, Embroideries9 min read

Column, The Tapestry Series

This is the fifth and bonus part of this series! Part 1 is a brief introduction, Part 2 a brief history, Part 3 an informative piece on the fabrication of tapestries and Part 4 an inventory of Viking Age tapestries.

We’re bowing out of this series with a look at a few modern Viking Age tapestries. Yes, you heard that correctly! In the past two years of researching and reading on tapestries, I came across a number of modern samples with historical narratives. In most cases, these are commemorative hangings and most take after the concept of the Bayeux embroidery. I haven’t followed strict criteria here, so I’ll show you all I found!

The 1980s

Maldon Embroidery (Source: Maeldune Heritage Centre)

1988-1991. Maldon Embroidery. Designed by Humphrey Spender and now hanging in the Maeldune Heritage Centre, United Kingdom. There are seven panels with a total length of 1280 x 66 cm that were completed in about 3,5 years. I wasn’t able to find out the warp and weft via my online research. The colours are vibrant, like Nørgaard’s work below. It should be noted also, that this is essentially not a tapestry but an embroidery. It was made for the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Maldon (991), and covers local history as well as the battle itself.[1]

The 1990s

1990-2000. The Viking Age Tapestry. Designed by Bjørn Nørgaard and hanging in the Great Hall of Christiansborg palace, Denmark. This wall hanging is one of 11 tapestries and 6 entrefenetres that were prepared at the renowned Gobelins in Paris. The panels are all divided into time periods of Danish History. The large panels measure 395 cm in width and a total of 200 m2.This is a fully woven tapestry with a warp and weft of wool. They were ordered on the 50th birthday of the Danish Queen Margarethe II and (finally) presented to her on her 60th birthday. (Watch the video to get an idea!) The narrative design has Yggdrasil as its centrepiece and has a border with faces of famous men from the Viking Age. The artwork is modern with very vibrant colours and many scenes from history and mythology overlapping.[2] 

1995-1997. The Pilgrim Tapestry. Designed by Nils Gunnar Svensson, currently hanging Pilgrim’s Hostel, Norway. The embroidered tapestry is 40 m long, and the warp and weft are linen and wool. The piece is 40 m long (width: ?) with wool embroidered on a linen cloth. It is a commemorative tapestry of Trondheim’s 1000 year existence and tells the story of the pilgrim’s way from Hammerö in Sweden to Trondheim in Norway that was in use between c. 1050 and the 1500s.[3]

The 2000s

Fulford Tapestry (Source: Fulford Battle.com)

2005-2012. The Fulford Tapestry. Designed by Chas Jones, and currently seeking a permanent home in the United Kingdom. Measuring 5 m in length, it is designed to be a seamless prequel to the Bayeux Tapestry. The warp and embroidery thread are made of wool. The hanging commemorates the battle of Fulford in 1066, when Norwegian king Harald Hardrada and his English kin fought and won against the Anglo-Saxons.[4]

2011

2011. The Rollo Tapestry. Designed by Gilles Pivard (see his short video) and the scenes written by Pierre Efratas and checked by a professor Renaud (Viking Studies). The work is on tour in France (and beyond) since 2011. The embroidery is an impressive 22 m long and 50 cm high. This is another Bayeux remake, this time in memory of the life of Rollo, the Viking Chief who became the Duke of Normandy.[5]

2011-(2018) The Ladby Tapestry. Designed by Gudrun Heltoft. It is hanging in the Viking museum Lady, Denmark. The hanging is 14 m long. It is expected to be completed in 2018. The design tells about the history of the old ship and of the new ship in the making.[6]

2011 – (?). Vatnsdæla Saga Tapestry. Designed by second-year students from the graphic department of the Icelandic University of the Arts, under the leadership of the artist Kristin Ragna Gunnarsdóttir (also involved in the Njál’s Saga Tapestry). The idea came from Jóhanna E. Pálmadóttir who oversees the stitching of the embroidery in the Icelandic Textile Centre in Blönduós, Iceland.  The piece will be 46 m long. Its narrative describes the Vatnsdæla saga and the travels of the people of Hof from Norway to Iceland in the ninth through eleventh centuries.[7] Watch the video here. Check out the podcast episodes on the Vatnsdæla Saga on Saga Thing.

After 2011

2012-2013. The Great Tapestry of Scotland, in particular the Coming of the Vikings Panel and the Vikings take Dumbarton Rock. Designed by Andrew Crummy after an original idea from Alexander McCall Smith, the famous Scottish author and historian Alastair Moffat. A building will be bought or designed for a permanent display of the tapestry near Galashiels, Scotland. The complete tapestry is the longest in the world at 143 m. Each panel is 1m x 1m with a wool weft and woollen thread. This is another embroidery with a chronological narrative until present times.[8]

2013-(2018?). Njál’s Saga Tapestry (Njálu Refill). Designed by Kristín Ragna Gunnarsdóttir, after an idea of Gunnhildur Edda Kristjánsdóttir and Christina M. Bengtsson. It will be about 90 m long and 50 cm high. The tapestry is sewn in the Icelandic Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur, Iceland. Indeed, it is another embroidery.[9] Watch the video here.

2016-2017. The Battle of Stamford Bridge. Designed by Chris Rock. Consists of 12 panels (destined to be 15) of about 12 m long, in the same size and scale of the Bayeux Embroidery. Stitched in wool on linen. Prepared for the 950th anniversary the battle (in September 2016).[10] Watch the video here.

Tying Knots on the Base

Urðr. Tapestries with narrative designs are marvellous pieces of evidence of past societies. They can speak of large events as well as small, daily gestures, objects and poses. They depict the grand idea of the designer and the skill of its weaver. It is a flashback to the psychology and craftsmanship of days long gone. In the end, there is still enough for us to learn about them.

Verðandi. Perhaps today we don’t understand the small gestures anymore, or have the skill of a medieval craftsman. We have machines to replace human efforts. Yet, all modern, commemorative tapestries (embroideries) are made with the love and care as any medieval weaver or embroider would have. It is all done by hand with skills still present among locals and professionals across Europe.

Skuld. What will the future hold? The Old Norse Edda speaks of the Norns, the goddesses who weave the strands of fate close to Yggdrasil.[11] After 2010 we see a surge of commemorative pieces. Is this again linked to a surge in nationalistic feelings and need to underline a (colourful) past? Who knows, perhaps we will see new historical finds from excavations, or even more anniversary weaves… 

All things put together, I hope that, like me, you now know a little more about Viking Age tapestries!

Works Cited

“About The Njal’s Saga Tapestry.” Njalu Refill, April 23, 2017. https://njalurefill.is/about-the-njala-tapestry.
Ailes, Emma. “The Making of the Great Tapestry of Scotland.” BBC News, April 20, 2017. http://bbc.com. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-23935135.
“Bjørn Nørgaard and the Reformation.” KØS – Museum of Art in Public Spaces, April 20, 2017. http://koes.dk/en/udstillinger/tidligere-udstillinger/bjoern-noergaard-og-reformationen.
“Bjørn Nørgaard’s Tapestries.” The Danish Monarchy, April 20, 2017. http://kongehuset.dk/en/historical-collections/bjorn-norgaards-tapestries.
Clerk of Oxford. “The Battle of Stamford Bridge.” A Clerk of Oxford, April 19, 2017. http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-battle-of-stamford-bridge.html.
Hippystitch. “Battle of Stamford Bridge Tapestry.” Hippystitch, April 23, 2017. http://hippystitch.blogspot.com/2017/01/battle-of-stamford-bridge-tapestry.html.
Jan. “The Queen’s Birthday Tapestries.” Tangled Web, April 21, 2017. http://austintapestry.blogspot.com/2009/09/queens-birthday-tapestries.html.
Kolbeinsdóttir, Steinunn Ósk. “The Story of Burnt Njal – Tapestry,” April 23, 2017. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxAzgLES21U.
Laycock, Mike. “Battle of Fulford Tapestry to Go on Show.” York Press, April 23, 2017. http://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10610375.Battle_of_Fulford_tapestry_to_go_on_show/.
Lindow, John. Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press, 2002.
Ragnarsdóttir, Regína Hrönn. “The Njál’s Saga Tapestry in Hvolsvöllur in South-Iceland – Njálurefill.” Guide to Iceland, April 23, 2017. https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/the-njals-saga-tapestry—njalurefill.
“Rollo Tapestry: The Viking Chieftain’s Life with Politics, War and Love.” Vikingeskibsmuseet Roskilde, April 19, 2017. http://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/news/article/rollo-tapestry-the-viking-chieftains-life-with-politics-war-and-love-1/.
“Scottish Tapestry.” The Great Tapestry of Scotland, April 19, 2017. http://scotlandstapestry.com/.
“Tapestries for The Queen of Denmark.” Bjoern Noergaard, April 20, 2017. http://bjoernnoergaard.dk/en/gobeliner.
“Tapestry.” The Hidden Heritage of a Landscape, April 20, 2017. http://www.hiddenheritage.org.uk/explore/tapestry/.
“Tapestry Panels.” The Great Tapestry of Scotland, April 20, 2017. http://scotlandstapestry.com/index.php?s=tapestry.
“Tapestry Project – The Battle Of Stamford Bridge Tapestry Project.” The Battle of Stamford Bridge Society, April 19, 2017. http://thebattleofstamfordbridge.blogspot.com/p/tapestry-project.html.
“Tapisserie de Rollon.” Patrimoine Normand, April 23, 2017. http://www.patrimoine-normand.com/index-fiche-32653.html.
“The Battle – Battle of Stamford Bridge Tapestry Project.” Battle of Stamford Bridge Tapestry Project, April 23, 2017. http://stamfordbridgetapestry.org.uk/battle.php.
“The Battle of Fulford 1066.” Finding Fulford, April 23, 2017. http://findingfulford.co.uk/contactus.html.
“The Ladby Tapestry.” Vikingemuseet Ladby, April 23, 2017. http://en.vikingemuseetladby.dk/explore/the-ladby-tapestry/.
“The Maldon Embroidery.” The Maeldune Heritage Centre, April 23, 2017. http://www.maelduneheritagecentre.co.uk/the-embroidery/4580686060.
“The Pilgrim’s Tapestry.” Utmark Museet, April 23, 2017. http://www.utmark.se/php/show.php?doc=tapet&lang=en.
“The Queens Tapestries.” Copenhagen Info, April 21, 2017. http://cphinfo.dk/en-gb/item/The-Queens-Tapestries/10067.
“The Vatnsdæla Tapestry.” Icelandic Saga and Heritage Association, April 23, 2017. http://www.sagatrail.is/en/museums/the-vatnsdaela-tapestry/.
“To Sew a Ladby Tapestry 2013.” Ladby Tapetet, April 19, 2017. https://ladbytapetet.wordpress.com/category/the-ladby-tapestry/.
“Vikingetiden.” Arslonga, April 22, 2017. http://arslonga.dk/dronningens_gobeliner_vikingetid.htm.
“Woven into History: Yorkshire’s Answer to the Bayeux Tapestry.” Yorkshire Post, April 23, 2017. http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/woven-into-history-yorkshire-s-answer-to-the-bayeux-tapestry-1-8122957.

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