baleanoptera: (Norge Stavechurch)
[personal profile] baleanoptera
Well, it’s now official. I will be taking media studies this autumn, and in the spring I’ll hand in my master thesis in media studies. The fact that I already have a master in Art History points to the fact that I’m possibly a bit insane. (I’ve been through this shitstorm once – and now I’m doing it again? But I get to write about war films and Band of Brothers)
At any rate – both to keep me grounded and to hold on to whatever sanity I have left – I thought I’d post a bit about my favourite art objects.

(and if you are reading this Nol then know this is all you fault! The art posting I mean. Not the crazyness of doing media studies. Your question about my favourite art period got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking. Still no answer – but there is this:)

-----------------------------




Detail of Urnes Portal

The Portal of Urnes Stave Church



Portals and thresholds are dangerous places in all older, North European churches. They mark the division between the sacred inside and the profane outside –and thereby obtain a symbolic as well as practical function. The result is that most portals are lavishly decorated, often with saints and angels like the portals at Chartres or Vézelay.



The complete Portal of Urnes Stave Church


This is true for the Nordic Stave churches as well, but here the decorations differ slightly. Instead of angels there are monsters – not saints but meandering dragons. Transforming the focus of the portal to be not on the holiness inside the church, but on the dark terror of the world outside.


Urnes Stave Church with a view of the fjord. The church was built around 1130 AD, but the carvings on the portal are from an even older church


Stave churches are wooden buildings from predominately the 11th and 12th Century. They are called stav or pillar because they are built around a pillar supported structure. There are clear indications that these churches are based on earlier, pre-Christian and Viking building techniques. If this is true for the buildings then it is doubly so for the woodcarved
portals.

The Carved Dragon Head from the Oseberg Ship burial


Similar woodcarvings have been found in pagan ship burials, and it seems the old woodcarving techniques have simply been put to new use in regards to the churches.
To summarise: the portals, of which Urnes is one of the oldest, is the result of an old pre-Christian tradition adapted to a new Christian building and given the task of adorning and guarding a place of great symbolic and practical significance: the threshold.


Another detail shot of the portal


What I love about the Urnes portal is the swanky lines and the sheer depth of the carving. You see that dragon-horse like creature at the bottom and all the circles above it? That is one single piece of wood! Granted that means it’s a big tree, but imagine carving all those details and those flowing lines from one piece of wood. You cannot make mistakes. The smallest wrong cut, and you have to begin an new.

I also love how the curves of the cutting seem to swirl around the portal, giving it an almost organic feel. At times the portal appears more like it’s grown than been carved. It’s slightly uncanny. There is as a wild, chaotic feel to all the circles and fantastic creatures and I always feel it looks more like the gate to some dark mystery, than the door to a church. Perhaps to the people who carved it was a portal to something mysterious. I doubt their view of a church was the same as mine. Whatever it looks may entail the carving leaves no doubt about the portals important position. The lavish decorations signal quite clearly that this is the border to somewhere important.


A view from the portal and over the grave yard

Date: 2007-08-21 09:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexandral.livejournal.com
Oh - that church looks amazing! And what is these portals are REAL doors for supernatural? (Sorry i always think this way when I see something like this).

And - how fabulous!! Congratulations! (I am still gathering my courage for my first Master Degree. :D)

Date: 2007-08-21 09:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
The church is amazing! It's very tiny - but its so beautifully situated and the whole area has this very old, peaceful feel to it. It's very nice.

And what is these portals are REAL doors for supernatural? (Sorry i always think this way when I see something like this).

HEE! I ALWAYS think like this as well! Sort of like the door to Narnia. ;)

And thank you so much! I'm a bit (actually quite a lot) terrified of doing this again - but one the other hand I really, really want to -and since I now have the opportunity to do it, it seems silly not to try.

As for taking a Masters degree, all I can say is: Do it! It is great fun! But of course challenging. What I had the most problems with the first time around wasn't the material I was writing about - but it was to structure myself and to learn to trust my own instincts so to speak. In short to stop second guessing myself. When I managed that it wasn't so bad.

Date: 2007-08-21 09:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] semyaza.livejournal.com
You mention the organic feel. My first thought when I saw the picture of the complete portal was that it looks like a forest of tangled branches and vines. For some reason it made me think of that bit in Alan Garner's The Owl Service (which won't make any sense if you haven't read the book :D)-- 'Not flowers. Owls.' When I look at the portal I see trees, not monsters.

Date: 2007-08-22 09:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
I haven't read that book actually, but it has been on my To-read list for ages. If it reminds you of the Urnes portal then I think I might start reading it as soon as possible. :)

And you are right - it does look like a forest of tangled branches. One of my favourite parts, but one which sadly doesn't show up on the photos, is that the door proper is filled with runes. In fact all Stave Church doors are filled with runes and bind runes. But in the rest of the church, with the exception of the pillars, there are no runes at all. It really adds to the feeling that they viewed these doors as special.

Date: 2007-08-22 09:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] semyaza.livejournal.com
The quote should actually be 'Not owls. Flowers', but the point is the same -- that one can look at a pattern and not be able to see more than one thing. In the case of the Owl service, it's the ill-fated thing that Alison sees. The Owl Service and Redshift are my favourite Garner books.

I've only see one stave church, but I loved it.

Date: 2007-08-22 12:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] reginaspina.livejournal.com
How gorgeous these pictures are!! I see a repetition of those flowing vines , in metal, on the doors of the cathedral in Veliki Novgorod, (http://pics.livejournal.com/queenofthorns/pic/0030wga7) which makes sense, because that place was full of Vikings :P

Good luck with your masters' thesis!! :) (I'm surprised you didn't choose "The Wire" as your topic though :P)

Date: 2007-08-22 09:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
I love the Novgorod doors! So gorgeous, and I agree there is similar feel with vines.

Good luck with your masters' thesis!! :) (I'm surprised you didn't choose "The Wire" as your topic though :P

Thank you! And I actually considered the Wire, but I wasn't entirely sure where to start. But if I could do Stringer Bell - a character study, then all would be well

With Band of Brothers I do have a few ideas I'd like to test - the primary one being how we turn historical events into fiction, and what happens when we do. Does historical fiction (be it in book or film) change the way we view history?

Date: 2007-08-22 02:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nutmeg3.livejournal.com
I love the idea of the doors being spiritual barriers. That's so cool. And congrats on MA #2!

Date: 2007-08-22 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Thank you! And yes - doors and thresholds as barriers is one of my favourite things. Like I said to [livejournal.com profile] alexandral above I always think: "But what if it is a portal to somewhere else" Hee.

Date: 2007-08-22 03:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lage-nom-ai.livejournal.com
Oh you are nuts! congrats! How cool.

And this post was so great. I really love arches and archways in architecture, particularly in churches, because I think I've always invested them with that same kind of meaning (and so of course I love portals with rounded tops). This was such a cool post.

Date: 2007-08-23 08:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Oh you are nuts!

I know, I know. I feel a bit like a character in a cartoon - with one angel and one devil talking to me. One is saying: this is madness, don't do it! And the other is going: But wouldn't it be great fun? And the least you could do is try? My only problem is that I don't know which is which. ;)

But seriously - the thesis I want to write has a focus not that far from my Art Historical one. So the jump isn't that great. I tell my self again and again. It all revolves around how we create historical narratives based on actual events - and in this instant how we create narratives about World War II, and how these narratives affect the way we view history.
(also I really like war movies. ;) )

I really love arches and archways in architecture,

hee. I do too. I always end up taking photos of arches and portals and such. I swear, half my photos from Rome last November are of doors and porticoes. Great to hear you liked the post.

Date: 2007-08-25 01:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lage-nom-ai.livejournal.com
Your thesis sounds really fascinating! PM me sometime if you'd like to chat about it more. My own area of research has a lot of common themes.

Date: 2007-08-28 10:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
PM'ing sounds like a good plan, though I'm not entirely sure how to do it. (*is technically helpless*) But for you my darlin' I'll face my techno-fears and figure things out. ;)

Date: 2007-08-28 03:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lage-nom-ai.livejournal.com
Heee!
I just meant send me a Private(e)Mail about it! Sorry to cause you some worry! :)

Date: 2007-08-29 07:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Sorry to cause you some worry! :)

Or, you know, make it completely obvious how technically inept I am. *coughs and slinks away in embarrassment*
But is the mail on your profile page usable? (if not I'll just add my mail in the next comment.)

Date: 2007-08-22 08:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] applegnat.livejournal.com
I'm always so amazed and impressed at the glimpses I get into the culture and art of Northern Europe from your posts. It's always so easy to forget the relative power and monumental impact of this stuff on world culture in the face of the dazzling press that the more Latinate by-products of European history get. These portals are magnificent works of art, and it is so poetic and perfect that a community so cut off, in many respects, from other parts of the world, should understand and appreciate the importance of doors and thresholds so well.

This is brilliant stuff, and as always, thank you.

[Hoorah on the media studies masters! I hope there will be much discussion of it in LJ posts to come. :)]

Date: 2007-08-24 03:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Thank you! Like I said you asking me about art and Scandinavian folk in many ways triggered this.

in the face of the dazzling press that the more Latinate by-products of European history get

Hmm..yes, one of my pet peeves that. Art History is extremely etnocentric, and specifically Euro-centric. It's also in love with its own linear narrative (everything starts with Ancient Greece, and ends with Andy warhole). Now I have great love of for instance the Italian Renaissance, but why it should always be presented as the pinnacle of art I have no idea. ;)

the importance of doors and thresholds so well.

yes, isn't it great? The Nordic culture also has this very distinct divide between innmark, the inner fields, and utmark, the outer fields. The inner fields consist of anything within the immediate boundaries of the settlement - the outer fields are everything else. The inner fields are safe - but the outer fields or mark is a very dangerous place. So in essence its a society built up around borders and the dangers of crossing those borders. Its very fascinating stuff.

Plus I've always loved doors and portals. There is just something inherently fascinating about them.

Hoorah on the media studies masters! I hope there will be much discussion of it in LJ posts to come. :)]

Oh, count on it! I read a brilliant essay today which compared soap operas and sports. I know, it sounds bizarre - but the premise was rather neat. They listed all the ways in which sports resembled soap operas- from focus on emotional editing (music swells when important things happen. Important scenes/goals get replayed) to Open Ended Narrative (the team might have one for this season, but what about the next. In soaps Tracy may have married Billy - but who knows if it's going to last etc.) The conclusion being that people need some melodrama in their lives - and sports and soaps provided that.

Not that this is anything new to people who watch football. ;)

Date: 2007-08-24 03:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] applegnat.livejournal.com
OMG, that is positively ELECTRIFYING theory. I love it. My brain is snuggling up to this comment as we speak and curling up in it. I love it! And of course, because of the gender divide one of the two pastimes is exalted and high, while the other is reviled and mocked.

Well, of course, in my case I like to revile and mock football as well. But I love it. It encapsulates a lot of how pop culture fulfils our needs, as well.

The mark, ah, thank you. The Rohan chapters in LotR must have so much significance in relating to your cultural background, no?

Date: 2007-08-24 03:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
OMG, that is positively ELECTRIFYING theory.

yes, isn't it just? And yes - the whole gender aspect was vitally important. Soaps being generally dismissed, whereas sports were cheered on. One being a predominate female past-time, the other male.
Also great was how they kept deconstructing sports events, like football games. Pointing out things like how close-ups makes it all more personal. How athletes are asked "how do you feel?" after scoring a goal and so forth. The basic conclusion being that sports, like football, were more than just the single game. It was everything around the game as well, and that all of this (the speculation, the way one follows a players career, the club rivalries and so forth) were all part of the huge narrative story called "sports".

The mark, ah, thank you. The Rohan chapters in LotR must have so much significance in relating to your cultural background, no?

Hee. yes definitely. Which I think is why I fell in love with Eowyn almost right from the start.
I also love that they in the movies based the Rohan architecture on old Nordic woodcarvings and how the Rohan music is partially played on a Hardanger-fiddle, which is a traditional instrument here.

Date: 2007-09-02 07:48 am (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (Gandalf and book)
From: [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
I am going to have to remember the bit about the innmark and the utmark, because that's the kind of detail I love. Also, I'm in agreement about how awesome the sports/soap theory is.

Art History is extremely etnocentric, and specifically Euro-centric. It's also in love with its own linear narrative (everything starts with Ancient Greece, and ends with Andy warhole).

I think I mentioned once how all the Scandinavian history I learned in school could be summarized like this: "Um, there were Vikings and Normandy and the Danelaw, which are in the period we're skipping but we thought we'd mention it... and then Scandinavia got Jesus... and then when Lutheranism came along they all converted... and oh, Swedish troops suddenly appeared during the Thirty Years War, and Queen Christina of Sweden talked to Descartes, and then... um... meanwhile, back on the Continent..." It's horribly frustrating to realize how much I've missed.

Date: 2007-09-02 07:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Hee! I think - "meanwhile back on the Continent" would be the perfect title to a book about Scandinavian history.

Swedish troops suddenly appeared during the Thirty Years War

This has me visualizing a cloud of smoke going "Poof!" and suddenly there are Swedish soldiers everywhere. Take that Tilly! Hee.

And innmark/utmark is an extremely fascinating divide. Reminds me that I should post some folklore things soon. But first up will probably be the cathedral in Cologne - because I'm feeling Gothic.

And yay! You're back!

Date: 2007-09-02 06:36 pm (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (Gandalf and book)
From: [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
This has me visualizing a cloud of smoke going "Poof!" and suddenly there are Swedish soldiers everywhere.

That's about how it came across in the book, too. "Sweden? What? Where? Wait, who are they and what have they been doing for the last century or four?" It makes European history so much more confusing interesting when troops can appear without warning from countries which appear to be lurking in dark corners due to the book's neglect.

Date: 2007-09-02 07:38 am (UTC)
ext_3752: Concept art of Alderaanian citizen. "We are a retro planet." (Gandalf and book)
From: [identity profile] sunnyskywalker.livejournal.com
The thesis sounds fascinating! Good luck! (But since you've done one already, you probably don't need much luck.)

You always have the most fascinating pictures.

Date: 2007-09-02 07:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
Thank you! I think, in all modesty, that the thesis bit is going to rock! (honestly - if I didn't think that I probably wouldn't go through with it. ;) )

Also glad to hear you like the pictures.

Date: 2008-04-01 06:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] schionatulander.livejournal.com
That's really interesting and the portal is stunningly beautiful. I have to admit that the flowing lines and animals that grow out of them and each other etc. remind me a bit of the Book of Lindisfarne and Book of Kells which makes me wonder if the early insular medieval churches in Ireland also showed this combination of pagan motives/art and new Christian architecture. Thanks for linking me to this post!! :-)

Date: 2008-07-26 10:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] baleanoptera.livejournal.com
I cannot speak for the Irish art, but what is a fact is that the Vikings in Norway raided mostly Ireland and Northern England - and one of the things they stole from the convents were books (because of the silver bindings I guess). So it is entirely possible that the wood carvers were inspired. Though that can never be proved of course. ;)

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