Jonas Lau Markussen
Urnes Style

Urnes style

c. 1050 – 1125


The Urnes style was the last of the viking age styles. Here at the brink of the Middle Ages in Scandinavia, Christianity was now prevalent among at least the upper classes of society and well established as the state religion.


The style has a distinct preference for unified form and is —from a contemporary view— very easy on the eye compared to many of the earlier viking age styles and much easier to decipher.


Many of its characteristics poured subsequently over into the romanesque style of the early Middle Ages, where some dragon motifs bare a clear resemblance to the ribbon-animals of the Urnes style.



The Anatomy of Viking Art






  1. Tendrils usually without offshoots.
  2. Elongated proportions.
  3. Animal heads are reduced to mere elongated terminals.
  4. Almond-shaped eyes.
  5. Lip-lappet.
  6. Neck-tendrils.
  7. Tightly scrolled tendril terminals.
  8. Spirals representing hip joints.
  9. Only two ribbon widths.






Very fluent curves, almost without indents. Indents occur only when absolutely necessary and in a meaningful way to pronounce the shaping of curving limbs and the like, and never in an abrupt way.






  • Only circular loops.
  • Even swelling and tapering (A).
  • Intersecting figure-of-eights loops (B).
  • Intersecting multiloops (C).






Openwide loops with relatively large areas of visible background.






A preference for unified form and patterns balanced by the shifts of direction of the loops.





The motifs of the Urnes style is very uniform, especially compared to the previous styles. Almost all compositions contains a central bigger mammal-like animal (probably a lion) with legs intertwined with lesser animals, often snakes but also other mammal-like animals. This composition is known as ‘The Great Beast’ which was first seen on the Jelling stone (c. 965), and has since been a popular motif both in the contemporary Mammen style and the later Ringerike style, and at last here in the Urnes style.


Common motifs


  • Great beasts (Lion and snake intertwined in battle).
  • Four-legged animals (presumably lions).
  • Snakes.
  • Vegetal inspired ornaments (rare but not totally absent)





A. Animal intertwined with a snake – A type of composition which is seen on a vast number of brooches found in Scandinavia.


B. Animal intertwined with four snakes, and a cross – A type of composition which is typically seen on many of the Swedish rune stones.


C. Animal intertwined with three lesser animals and four snakes – A type of composition best known from woodcarvings of which the ones from the Urnes Stave Church is some of the only ones surviving the test of time.


D. Two animals intertwined with three snakes – A type of composition that is somewhat similar to the woodcarvings from the Hørning Stave Church.






Need a set of Urnes Style Viking Ornaments?







Graham-Campbell, James, 2013. Viking Art.


Fuglesang, Signe Horn, 1980. Some Aspects of the Ringerike Style.


Fuglesang, Signe Horn, 1981. ‘Stylistic Groups in Late Viking and Early Romanesque Art.’ Acta ad Archaeologiam et Artium Historiam Pertinentia (Series altera in 8°) 79–125.




Updates and edits


January 30, 2017 — Added motif and composition D.





The Anatomy of Viking Art

The Anatomy of Viking Art

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