Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art, Art History Program
From the late-eighth through the early-twelfth centuries, the Germanic people of medieval Scandinavia (colloquially known as the Vikings) crafted enigmatic objects that were bound to a cultural acceptance of the supernatural. The material world was fundamentally linked to such a perspective: believing that things like carved pieces of bone and wood, metal apparatuses, and stone sculptures could hold or manipulate the unseen forces of the cosmos, they perceived the material world as alive, active, and powerful. Thus, crafted matter was not limited to aesthetically pleasing décor or functional tools—it was an agent through which the commingling of the sacred and the secular was made tangible. Scholars of medieval religion and history have argued that this worldview—dubbed a “magical way of thinking”—was intrinsic to the mindsets of the Scandinavian Middle Ages both before and after the region’s conversion to Christianity. Yet, despite the attention that medieval art historians have paid to the relationships between objects and beliefs in a supernatural (or divine) Other in contemporaneous, Abrahamic religious contexts, the art and material culture of the group at hand have been underserved. Substantial interpretive work needs to be done to untangle how these objects were connected to the uncanny. Asking not only how objects were embedded in supernatural power, but also through which methods were they endowed with such power and in what contexts it manifested, this project uses archaeological and textual evidence to formulate a new, art-historical framework for understanding the agency that this society assigned to the material world. Its aims are twofold: one, to suggest new routes for interpreting and understanding its relationship with crafted objects, and two, to push for further expansions in how these people are considered in scholarship and, eventually, in popular culture.