Jonas Lau Markussen

Jelling Style

The Anatomy of Viking Art




The Anatomy of the Jelling Style


c. 900 – 975






1. Head in profile.
2. Round or almond-shaped eye.
3. Curled lip-lappet.
4. Neck tendril.
5. Solid body.
6. Spirals representing hip joints.
7. Pellets intersecting limbs at joints.





Even outlines without tapering or dents.





A mix of wavy and almost geometric curves.


A. S-shapes.





  • Restrained use of interlace with some visible background.
  • Double contour.
  • Single-stranded ribbons.
  • Double-stranded ribbons.






  • Simple compositions of juxtaposed and overlapping s-shapes (B, C, D).
  • Centrifugally juxtaposed and overlapping pretzel-knots. (A).
  • Mirrored s-shapes (D).






Ribbon animals, typically with striated bodies.








Rise of the Jelling Dynasty



English Control of the Danelaw


The Anglo-Saxon King Edward, the Elder, managed to take back most of the Danelaw territory except Northumbria, which remained under Norse rule.


A few years later his son Eadred finally managed to gain control over and absorb Northumbria into the English Kingdom after the death of King Eric Bloodaxe and in doing so ending the Norse reign of English territory.



The Jelling Dynasty


Power in Denmark now began to concentrate in and around the aristocracy of the Jelling area on the peninsula of Jutland.


Gorm the Old is the first historically recognised king of Denmark.


His wife Thyra is mentioned on a number of rune stones in the area of Jelling, and not least on the lesser Jelling stone itself, which was raised by Gorm in memory of her.


It is believed that Gorm was buried in the chamber of the North Mound in Jelling when he died, built by his son and successor Harald Bluetooth. But the remains of Gorm was later moved out of the mound and placed in a final resting place under the wooden church built by Harald when he converted to Christianity.



The First Norse Christian King


After the death of Harald Fairhair, his son Haakon the Good returned to Norway to fight his half-brother Eric Blood-axe for the claim to the throne.


According to legend, Haakon was fostered by the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan, son of Edward the Elder, as part of an agreement made by his father, Harald. In England, he was influenced by the Christian faith of the English people, which he brought back with him to Norway.


Haakon gained support from the Norwegian landowners by promising to give up the rights of taxation claimed by his father. With the new found support, he was now able to force Eric to flee to the British Isles where he eventually would be King of Northumbria for a few years before his death.


Haakon later fought and was eventually defeated by the sons of Eric supported by Gorm the Old.



Bishoprics in Scandinavia


Several of the trading towns like Hedeby and Aarhus became the seat of a bishop under the Archbishopric of Hamburg and Bremen.



The Holy Roman Empire


Following the death of Emperor Louis the Pious, the Frankish Empire had previously been divided in three; West Francia, Middle Francia and East Francia.


There was no Emperor appointed in the West for several years until the crowning of the Saxon king Otto I.




Return of the Ribbon Animal





With the Jelling style begins a revival of the ribbon animal eventually pushing the motif of the gripping beast out into oblivion.


Though often executed in fairly simple juxtaposed and overlapping S-shaped layouts and still drawing heavily on the highly geometric interlace patterns of the previous Borre style like the pretzel knot and chain patterns, the Jelling style is in large a return to the Norse traditions of animal ornament reminiscent of the Broa style and even the earlier Germanic styles.


The ribbon animal of the Jelling style is developed further in the following styles and continues to be in fashion in various iterations right up until the end of the Viking Age.


Compared to the following iterations of the ribbon animal in the Mammen, Ringerike and Urnes style, the Jelling animal is relatively simple and formalistic in its anatomy with its equal-width ribbon body, ribbon neck-tendril and curly upper lip-lappet.


These components all constitute the backbone of the style and pours over into the following styles with the addition of their individual stylistic traits. And though the execution of the Jelling style can vary and sometimes seem unrelated on the surface, when looking closer, the underlying structure is often revealed as strictly conventional.


In this way, the style both pays tribute to the ribbon animal tradition of the past, but also establishes the new tradition of future Norse animal ornament.




Disc Brooches and Circular Pendants


The early Jelling style is often found on disc brooches and circular pendants along with jewellery of approximately the same type featuring Borre style decorations. These Jelling style designs often make use of Borre style compositional schemes, but instead of gripping beasts, they feature ribbon animals with heads in profile and neck tendrils.




The Jelling Cup


The style got its name from the small cup, displaying two overlapping S-shaped ribbon animals, found in the burial chamber of the North mound of the Jelling monument site and is believed to have been part of the grave goods accompanying Gorm the Great in death.




Horse Harness-bows


The three horse harness-bows found in Mammen, Jutland, and Søllested, Funen, displays ornaments in a more elaborate and figurative manner, while at the same time featuring some of the Jelling style trademarks like the curled lip-lappet and single neck-tendril. They seem like they might be a later development of the style on the verge of transitioning into the Mammen style.






Like the preceding Borre style, we find the Jelling style in all areas where the Norse went about at the time from The British Isles through Eastern and Western Europe.


There was no widespread tradition of stone carving in Scandinavia at this time, but a few stone monuments on the British Isles and the Isle of Man displays motifs which are clearly derived from the contemporary Scandinavian style.


The craftsmen on the British Isles already worked with animal patterns and interlace, which made a mutual influence between the Anglo-Saxon style and the Scandinavian style very easy.













c. 890 (the ship)

Animal head tent pole
— the Gokstad grave

Gokstad, Vestfold, Norway.
Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo C10408


c. 945 – 946

The Skaill hoard

Skaill, Orkney.


c. 958 – 959

The Jelling cup
— the Jelling north mount grave

Jelling, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen CCCLXXII







Animal head horse harness bow terminal

(site not registered) Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen 5254


Animal head strap ends

Jelling, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen JL/301


Bronze die patrice

Mammen, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen C1067


Bronze mount

Gryta, Haram, Norway.


Bronze Scabbard terminal mount

Astala i Kokemäki, Satakunta, Finland.
Kansallismuseo, Helsinki 8338:39


Bronze strap end

Björkö, Adelsö, Uppland, Sweden.
Historiska Museet, Stockholm
SHM 34000:Bj 37


Oval brooch

Morberg, Røyken, Buskerud, Norway.
Universitetets Oldsakssamling, Oslo C21438a


Rectangular silver brooch

Ödeshög, Östergötland, Sweden.
Historiska Museet, Stockholm SHM 5671


Silver disc brooch

Nonnebakken, Fyn, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen C6271


Gilt silver pendant

Vårby, Södermanland, Sweden.
Historiska Museet, Stockholm SHM 4516


Small disc brooch

Birka, Uppland, Sweden.
Historiska Museet, Stockholm


Silver filigree disc brooch
— the Tråen hoard

Tråen, Buskerud, Norway.


Tongue-shaped bronze brooch

Birka, Uppland, Sweden.
Historiska Museet, Stockholm SHM 5208


Tongue-shaped mount

Gokstad, Vestfold, Norway.
Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo C24239c


Trefoil brooch

Blaker, Lom, Oppland, Norway.
Universitetets Oldsakssamling, Oslo C6743


Two horse harness bows

Mammen, Jutland, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen C1063


Two tongue-shaped mounts

Kornsá, Northwestern Region, Iceland.
Nationalmuseet, Reykjavík 1780–82


Horse harness bow

Søllested, Odense, Denmark.
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen 25581






Graham-Campbell, James, 2013. Viking Art.


Fuglesang, Signe Horn, 1982. ‘Early Viking Art.’ Acta ad Archaeologiam et Artium Historiam Pertinentia (Series altera in 8°) 125–173.













The Anatomy of Viking Art

The Anatomy of Viking Art

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