A Timeless Norwegian Art

History of Norwegian Rosemaling

Rosemaling is a little known traditional art form unique to Norway and is characterized by stylized flowers and ‘c’ and ‘s’ shaped scrolls, inspired by the Renaissance and Acanthus motifs. It is a regional folk art that is timeless and dynamic.

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Traditional Telemark Rosemaling

How did Rosemaling evolve?

From rudimentary beginnings in the woodcarving decorations and religious art of the Middle Ages, Rosemaling first appeared in Norway during the Renaissance and Baroque periods of 1550 –1700.  Early examples, such as stylized plant motifs and acanthus scrolls, can still be seen in the traditional Norwegian churches dating from that era. In addition, regular trading of goods, with other countries in the Hanseatic League, provided the opportunity for East Asian influences to reach the shores of Norway and this provided further inspiration and influence for development of Norwegian folk art.

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Bykle church
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Wood Carving in Lesja

International trends in religious and modern art were relatively slow to reach the rural areas of Norway, and it was only as church furniture and fittings, (manufactured by the fashion-conscious urban craftsmen), were gradually installed in the country parishes, that new designs and ideas were introduced to the country folk.  Well-to-do farmers and Government officials and the fashion conscious, urban Norwegian elite were more heavily influenced by international trends in decorating and thus Rosemaling was confined mainly to the households and churches in the distant, rural Valleys of Norway.

1766 Chest from Simenrud Fåberg
Bridal Trunk with Acanthus leaf Stylization

In this relative isolation, rural Norwegian folk artists adapted the Renaissance inspired religious motifs and changed it to suit their own purposes. Over time, this folk art developed into an original style that evolved into a new art-form, with individual characteristics pertinent to each Valley. Between 1700 -1850, lavishly painted objects were often seen as status symbols. Therefore, itinerant or local folk artists were in high demand painting Rosemaling designs on cupboards, dressers, bridal trunks, saddles, harness parts, sleighs, and even clocks

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Acanthus leaf form in Lom church

The symmetrical designs of acanthus vine elements, so popular in the Renaissance era, were heavily influenced by Rococco trends from Europe, and later adapted by folk artists, finally emerging, in the Telemark region of Norway, as the distinctive ‘C’ curves and ‘S’ scroll forms, of Rosemaling, on an asymmetrical central root. This is the very popular style that we now identify as Telemark Rosemaling.

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Contemporary Telemark Rosemaling by Bjørn Pettersen

 

As the twentieth century approached, Rosemaling declined in popularity and it was only the political situation in Norway that saved it from complete obscurity.  Once Norway gained its independence, as a nation, there was, amongst the Norwegian public, a groundswell of interest in all things Norwegian, particularly crafts and painting. The revival continued throughout most of the 20th century and ensured Rosemaling had a promising future, both in Norway and in immigrant communities around the world, especially in the United States.

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Stave Church in Lom

 

An opportunity to see the rich heritage of Norway should not be missed. By studying the Rosemaling in the Stave churches, museums and contemporary exhibitions in Norway, a folk artist can, like those painters in centuries past, become inspired to create individual masterpieces and hopefully, their own original style.

 

History and Art is Something Beautiful to Ponder About

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52 thoughts on “A Timeless Norwegian Art

    1. I am so glad I could introduce you to this dynamic and striking art form. I fell in love with it when I first discovered it in Norway. Perhaps you might be tempted to try a little for yourself?

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  1. Beautiful post, Amanda. I love the blend of history and art that you incorporated in this post. The chair is gorgeous. Rosemaling reminds me of the fleur de lis patterns we saw in Florence, Italy from the street vendors. We bought a couple of pieces when we went years ago.

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    1. Thank you Marsha. Interesting comparison with the Italian art which is also heavily influenced by the Renaissance movement,it particularly the Acanthus. Good observation skills Marsha. I am planning to do more posts on American Rosemaling. Are you familiar with or have you seen much of that?

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    2. Well that is cool. I have added a page on my blog that details more posts on Rosemaling but it is a bit more technically oriented. This is why I plan to do a few more informative posts to increase awareness of the art form. Can you post a photo to the networking bloggers book group or Insta?

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    1. The history of this particular art is indeed very interesting. It often tells the story of politics and nationhood too. What people liked and didn’t like and what forces influenced decorating trends.

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  2. I wonder where this Norwegian ‘rosemaling’ comes from. Let ne have a wild guess?
    German for the art of painting is Mahling, so if we accept rose as a rose the translation is; rose painting. That is, if we accept the Norwegian verb ‘maling’ as mahling. I should look it up.
    Of course we have to take it one step further, and also accept the painting of roses evolved in the Norwegian art form of making those decorative swirls and curls.

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    1. Hi Gerard, I like how your comment crosses art and linguistic comments. You are indeed correct that maling translates to painting. And in some forms roses were used and tulips too. They became very stylized in certain regions, sometimes unrecognizable as roses. If you know German you could probably understand a lot of Norwegian as it is one of the North Germanic languages.

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    1. Well, we did not take a photograph in the church… and it was 20 years ago heheh almost to the month (July actually). The image of some of the angels surrounding the Christ we recalled, because the local guide called it out. Partly because we were the only Asians in the church at the time!

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    2. Well, not very. About 1 week over. We took the train from Flam up the mountains and cruised the fjords. Oslo was fantastic. Norway is a beautiful country. Pity its so darn expensive!

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    3. I also did the Flam trip but in 2004. I always keep re visiting Norway, stunning place esp. the West coast. Funnily enough things in Australia have gotten so pricey that Norway is only a little more expensive than holidaying in Australia. Are you planning to go back to Norway at some point? If so, which part?

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  3. Such beautiful designs and colours, Amanda! I’ve never heard of Rosemaling, so I’m very happy to find out about it. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey through its history and seeing your wonderful photos.

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  4. I’ve seen the acanthus a couple of times in the architecture of some of the older churches in my country, but never heard of rosemaling. And it looks like such a beautiful and unique style! Definitely an inspiration for any artist or craftsman 🙂

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    1. I am so happy that you have now discovered the wonderful art of Rosemaling. Indeed, you will often see the acanthus, and not just in the older churches. These folk and religious art motifs have been used extensively in many creative studies over the years.

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  5. I have always loved this art form and saw a good deal of it in my home country of Germany. Tried my hand at it a few years ago but did not have the time to devote to becoming proficient. Loved reading about the history of it and learning about the name of it. I learn from the comments too. 🙂 I would fill my house with it quite easily and the outside as well if the neighborhood HOA would allow it,

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    1. Perhaps you have might seen some of the same Renaissance/Baroque motifs and influences in historic or religious art. The Acanthus form in particular is almost ubiquitous across cultures.

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