Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.

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"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in
       Danish.

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in
       Swedish.

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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SCULPTING THE HUMAN CONDITION
by Bob Brooke

Many artists have tried to interpret the pathos that is the human condition. In many ways, Gustav Vigeland, the Norwegian sculptor, succeeded. His lasting legacy is a monumental lifetime work that occupies a 75-acre park in Oslo.

Vigeland once said, "I was a sculptor before I was born. I was driven and lashed onward by powerful forces outside myself. There was no other path, and no matter how hard I might have tried to find one, I would have been forced back again."

Early Years

Adolf Gustav Vigeland was born to a family of craftsmen, just outside Halse og Harkmark, once a part of the town of Mandal. His parents were Elesćus Thorsen, a cabinetmaker and Anne Aanensdatter. His younger brother, Emanuel Vigeland, also became a noted artist. However, the sudden death of his father compelled him to move back to Mandal to help his family. Gustav lived for a time with his grandparents on a farm called Mjunebrokka in Vigeland, an old farm in Valle parish.

Vigeland's artistic talents first appeared in his drawings and woodcarvings at the age of fifteen. His father took him to Oslo to apprentice him to a master. But the death of his father only two years later forced Vigeland to return to Mandal and forget all hopes of becoming a sculptor. In 1888, Vigeland returned to Oslo, this time taking with him a bundle of sketches for statues, groups and reliefs, their subject matter based mostly on Greek mythology and the Bible. The sculptor, Brynjulf Bergslien, impressed by his drawings, took him under his wing and gave him his first practical training.

Vigeland spent the years 1891 to 1896 traveling to Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin and Florence. While in Paris, he frequented Auguste Rodin's workshop, Rodin's intimate treatment of his relationship between man and woman was also influential in Vigeland's life-long development of this theme. While in Florence, he studied ancient and Renaissance artworks. In these years the themes that would later dominate his inspiration—the death and the relationship between man and woman—first appeared. He first exhibited his works in Oslo in 1894 and 1896 to notable critical praise.

Until 1902 Vigeland worked on the restoration of the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. This contact with Mediaeval art contributed to another frequent theme in Vigeland's art—the dragon as a symbol of sin but also as a force of nature, fighting against man.



Back in Oslo, he obtained from the city government an abandoned studio in which to work. In 1905 Norway became independent from Sweden. Vigeland, considered the most talented Norwegian sculptor, received numerous commissions for statues and busts celebrating famous Norwegians patriots like Henrik Ibsen and Niels Henrik Abel.

In 1921 the City of Oslo decided to demolish the house where Vigeland lived and build a library. After a long dispute, Vigeland was granted a new building from the city, where he could work and live: in exchange, he promised to donate to the city all his subsequent works, including sculptures, drawings, engravings and models.

Vigeland moved to his new studio in Nobels gate in the vicinity of Frogner Park in 1924. He had chosen this park as the location for his fountain. Over the following twenty years, Vigeland devoted his life and work to the creation of an open exhibition of his works, which eventually became Vigeland Park. The park covers 75 acres and features 212 of his bronze and granite sculptures.

The Park Today
The park’s sculptures include over 600 figures, all modeled in full size by Vigeland without the assistance of pupils or other artists. Vigeland designed the park similar to a classical European formal garden, with two long and wide gravel walkways set perpendicularly to each other. Sculptures are grouped largely on one axis, gathered along a bridge, around a large fountain, and leading up stone steps to Vigeland’s “Monolith,” a column of 121 intertwined naked figures rising to a height of over 56 feet. He made his human figures larger than life.



The Fountain
The centerpiece and the initial focus of the outdoor exhibition was the Fountain. In 1907, Vigeland presented a model of the Fountain to the city counsel and they commissioned him to create it for the square in from of the National Parliament. Time passed and controversy arose over the location, plus the counsel couldn’t raise enough money. While he waited, Vigeland added several more sculptural groups and, in 1919, a tall granite column. In 1924, the City of Oslo decided that Vigeland’s Fountain should be erected in Frogner Park, later called Vigeland Park. In 1931 followed a renewal of the bridge over the Frogner ponds enabled Vigeland to add numerous sculptures on the parapets and grounds.

In the center of the basin, six giants hold the large saucer-shaped vessel aloft and from it a curtain of water spills down around them. The men, representing different ages, may be interpreted as toiling with the burden of life and the effort expended in lifting the heavy vessel varies.

Water, a universal symbol of fertility, appears in juxtaposition with the 20 "tree groups" on the surrounding parapet, the latter symbolizing the "tree of life." The tree groups represent a romantic expression of Man's relationship to nature. They also form the setting for life's evolving stages, stretching from childhood and adolescence through adulthood to old age and death.



The Monolith
The 56-foot-high column, carved out of a single block of stone, consists of 121 figures. Modeled by Vigeland in the years 1924-25, it took three stone carvers from 1929 to 1943 to complete it, just shortly before Vigeland died. The column is completely covered by human figures in relief, singly or in groups. At the bottom there are seemingly inert bodies. Above them figures ascent in a spiral, the movement halting midway and then rising at a fast pace towards the summit which is covered by small children. Various interpretations of the Monolith have been suggested, including Man's resurrection, Man’s struggle for existence, and Man's yearning for spiritual spheres.

The Monolith Plateau
Surrounding the Monolith stand 36 granite sculptural groups depicting the cycle of life. Every sculpture includes at least two figures depicting Man in a variety of typical human situations and relationships. A man and woman sit facing one another with a little child between them. Children play, young men and women dream and embrace. Vigeland represented old age in several groups.

The groups show a certain variation in composition and form. Initially, Vigeland wanted to retain the volume of the granite block. The figures from this early period are broad and simple with a minimal of detail. Later, however, he introduced greater differentiation of composition and figure style and allowed more space between figures. Although a skilled carver himself, Vigeland didn’t sculpt directly in granite. He modeled the groups full size in clay and employed professional stone carvers to do the time-consuming work of transferring his original models into stone.

The Bridge
Fifty-eight bronze sculptures, portraying people of widely differing ages, stand on granite parapets on either side of the Bridge. Vigeland’s motifs for these groups include the relationships between man and woman and between adults and children.

The Wheel Of Life
After finishing the 58 sculptures for the bridge in the early 1930s, Vigeland completed a small children's circle which now stands at one end of the bridge next to the small lake. In 1934, he completed the large bronze "Wheel of Life, “composed of figures swirling in an eternal circle.

The Vigeland Museum
Vigeland lived and worked in Nobels Gate from 1924 until his death in 1943. His ashes are still preserved in the belfry there. The City of Oslo made the building, about five minutes south of the park, into the Vigeland Museum. Within it is Vigeland’s third-floor apartment, as well as 1,600 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, and 400 woodcuts, along with the plaster models of the Vigeland Park sculptures.


< Back to Scandinavian Arts                                                     Go to Georg Jensen >

Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

News from Norway
from The Norway Post
News from Denmark

from The Local - Denmark
News from Sweden
from The Local - Sweden
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
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THE VIKINGS:
THE NORTH ATLANTIC SAGA

In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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To read more articles by Bob Brooke, visit his Web site.

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