Crafting Words and Wood: Myth, Carving and Húsdrápa
In the poem Húsdrápa, ca. 985, Úlfr Uggason described woodcarvings of mythological scenes adorning an Icelandic hall owned by the chieftain Óláfr pái. The performance, of which some verses have been passed down in writing, was an act of referential intermedia, insofar as the art form of skaldic poetry presented with woven words the content of a wood-carved medium that has long since rotted away. Hence, the composition of the poem combined with the carvings created a link that opens up a union between extant literary sources and material culture which contributes to expanding cultural insight. This study draws from a range of sources in order to answer central research questions regarding the appearance and qualities of the missing woodcarvings. Intermedia becomes interdisciplinary in the quest, as archaeological finds of Viking Age and early medieval woodcarvings and iconography help fill the void of otherwise missing artifacts. Old Norse literature provides clues to the mythic cultural values imbued in the wooden iconography. Anthropological and other theories drawn from the liberal arts also apply as legend, myth and art combine to inform cultural meaning. The study reveals that the appearance and function of the woodcarvings merge as they were understood not only aesthetically but also to possess a certain agency. The dissertation is in two parts. The first portion provides background information regarding woodcarving and iconography found in Northern Europe as it refers to poetry, sagas and legends for contextualization. The second portion continues the investigation with an emphasis on Iceland and a close reading of the poem Húsdrápa. In these sections a synthesis of saga scenes, skaldic poetry, myth and applicable iconography informs analysis and hypothetical prototypes of the carvings.
In addition to figures such as sketches and photos included in the appendix, there are eight animations available for download labeled Animation 1 - 8. Each of these animations help illustrate the appearance and qualities of both extant and hypothetical wood-carved mythic scenes from the Viking Age.