Before technology arrived, Norwegians spent long winters in darkness, so, in order to brighten up the interior of the homes and places of worship, they developed a form of traditional painting that was completely unique. “Rosemaling artists” or Rose painters earned their living traveling through the western fjords of Norway, often times painting in the styles that might have passed out of European fashion 100 years previously. (Such was the isolation of some of the valleys in Norway, decorating trends took this long to filter through). But this isolation is also the reason we still have them to appreciate today.
One of the best examples of Renaissance-Baroque style Rosemaling is found in the Rosekyrkja, or Rose Church, in a little village of Stordal, in the mountains of Møre og Romsdal fylke, Western Norway.
If you drive south through spectacular snow dotted, vertical mountains from Andalsnes, you will find the village of Stordal, where an old stave church stood since the 11th century before it fell into disrepair. In 1789, the village farmers pitched in to build a new church, sourcing local timber to complement the columns and panels they salvaged from the original stave church created a typical 8-sided church. However, the plain white exterior so typical of the octagonal walled churches, belies the artistic feast that awaits you within.
Two artists: Vebjørn Halling and Andreas Reinholdt are responsible for the painting that is all original work and has not been restored since it was first painted in 1799. The ship, hat hooks and candelabra also date back to the medieval times and most probably were fixtures in the original stave church. The paintings themselves depict religious motifs such as the twelve apostles, Christ and the foolish virgins, as well as rosemaling scrolls and swirls, intertwined with renaissance and baroque motifs like grapes or pears. In addition, the church altarpiece dates from the 12th century.
As the church has never been heated and sermons were often very long, the community constructed another church in 1908, and quite sensibly reserved this Norwegian art monument for use on special occasions and ceremonies, such as weddings.
No less picturesque than the church, is the drive through the county itself, with Norwegian red barns and farming fields that are so green in spring and summer, they are almost surreal. Stordal is a pleasant drive from the larger town of Andalsnes, (rail network from Oslo). As I passed through spectacular fjords and valleys lined with mountainsides so steep, I felt more like an ant than a fully grown tourist. Stordal Rosekyrkja and its rich history is so unique, it has to be seen to be believed.
A truly amazing piece of Norwegian art to ponder about.
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