Jellingestenens bildvärld


  • Hans Christiansen


Jellingestenen, Jellinge Stone, Ornamentation, ornamenter, billeder, Pictures, Harrald blåtand, Harald Bluetooth


The Ornamentation of the Jellinge Stone.

The larger of the Jellinge stones, raised by Harald Bluetooth in memory of his parents, King Gorm and Queen Thyra, is one of the most renowned rune stones in Scandinavia. It must have been erected some time between 950 and 985 A. D., and is formed of a three-sided boulder almost three meters in height. It is exceedingly unlikely that it lay originally on its present site, and it was probably moved there at Harald's orders. The stone has carving on all three sides; on two of them representations of figures dominate, a carving of Christ (side C, fig. 1) and a mythical beast, most closely resembling a griffon without wings, coiled around by a snake (side B, fig. 2). The third side is occupied by a runic text (side A, fig. 3). All three sides are connected by ornamentation, while on both side B and side C there is in addition a continuation of the runic text of side A.

The literature dealing with the large Jellinge stone is very voluminous 11), the latest contributions being two treatises, one by Sune Lindqvist 12) and the other by Wilhelm Holmqvist 33). Lindqvist considers the stone's runic inscription to have been cut in two stages, the first half of the text, comprising the dedication, being inscribed first, and the remainder, dealing with Harald's exploits, being added at a later date. The dedication runs: King Harald caused this monument to be raised for Gorm his father and Thyra his mother. The additional text runs: That Harald who won for himself all Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian 13). Lindqvist considers it possible that "the additional text was cut some time after 985". The rows of runes forming the dedication do in fact fit excellently into the artistic plan of the stone, whereas the additional lines would appear, both from an artistic standpoint and from the point of view of context, not to have been designed to fit into the original scheme of decoration. The present author has made two observations which, he considers, support Lindqvist's contentions:

1. The words in the dedication are separated by the sign :, whereas in the additional inscription they are separated by ·, except between the third and fourth word and perhaps between the second and third, where the word division is :.

2. The runic text of the dedication lies on ribbons which run into the framing ornamentation and are carried out in low relief like the remainder of the carving on the stone. The additional runic text, on the other hand, stands on single incised lines. The additional text on side A stands on a line which proceeds round the corner of the stone to the additional text on side C. In addition an unused guide line passes close to the field on side C, extends into side A and ends in the centre of its left-hand marginal ornamentation. It is possible that it was originally longer but has disappeared as a consequence of weathering of the stone. The runic inscription of side B also stands on a single line, which is slightly curved at one end. It is probable that the line was also curved at the other end, but here the stone has been damaged and the line apparently erased. This curved line can be imagined as the keel of a boat, its ram-shaped bow and stern being represented by the outer edges of the curls of the framing ornamentation and its bulwarks by the plaited bar of this ornamentation (fig. 4 a-b). This plaited bar with its double undulation provides an outline reminiscent of a row of shields hanging over the bulwarks of a ship (figs. 4 and 7). This boat shape which, as the present writer believes, can thus be identified is of a type common in Viking art 23) 24), being found on runestones (figs. 5, 6, 7 and 8) 25) 26) 27) 29) and elsewhere. On the Tullstorp stone. in Scania such a boat is carved below a lion, the latter giving the impression of being related to the griffon of the Jellinge stone, although the Tullstorp stone is at least two decades later in date. If side B of the Jellinge stone was interpreted by its contempora­ries as representing a griffon with a boat below then the composition of the Tullstrup stone is a natural copy of the Jellinge stone.

The question remains why the additional text was inscribed below Harald Bluetooth's inscription, and whether it was added by Harald himself or by another. Lindqvist considers that it was appended to honour Harald's memory in Jellinge 21); for Harald was buried in Roskilde. The present writer would consider the possibility that the empty southern tumulus at Jellinge was also erected in memory of Harald. For it was not unusual in the period of transition to Christianity for a man to be buried in or besides a church but for a tumulus or a runic stone to be erected in addition at his ancestral burial place 8) 9) 10). The reason for holding this view would be that Harald's son, Sven Forkbeard, clearly tried to make Denmark completely independent of Hamburg-Bremen and thereby also of the German Emperor, who considered himself, as the Divine representative on earth, to have political rights over the German mission areas. It was precisely at this time, in the 980s, after the death of Otto II, that a wave of nationalistic uprisings swept through all the German mission areas. It is possible, therefore, that Sven wished to raise his father to the position of a national hero, who had himself, among his other achievements, converted the Danes, and whose heritage Sven could rightfully assume. In the present writer's opinion the southern tumulus may also have been raised by. Sven Forkbeard in order to stress still further the greatness of the Jellinge dynasty.

The figure of Christ OD the Jellinge stone is unique (fig. 1). It shows no cross or stigmata and is instead entwined in acanthus vines. It is probable that these vines should be understood as an extremely stylized tree of life. The tree of life as a symbol for the cross begins to be common precisely in the centuries to either side of 1000 A. D. (fig. 9) 35) 36) 38) 39).

Holmqvist asserts that the ornamentation of the Jellinge stone is derived from certain manuscript pages, probably South English 42). The possibility that this view is correct cannot be gainsaid, but there are certain features which would suggest that the craftsman of the Jellinge stone had been influenced by the art both of Scandinavia 42) 63) and of the Empire of the Ottos. Among other indications there is an undoubted buckle in the framing ornamentation at the top of side C of the stone immediately above the crossed halo of the Christ figure (fig. 10). This buckle has, so far as is known, not been noted previously and its significance lies partly in its demonstrating that the idea behind the carving of the frame ornamentation of the Jellinge stone was rather naturalistic than purely decorative. Possibly it was desired to empha­size that the figures, Christ and the griffon and snake, are confined within these boundaries; perhaps there was also a wish symbolically to bind the actual stone.

Interest in thus fettering figures and concepts with band ornamentation is found throughout the whole of North German art from the Vendel Period up to the Middle Ages 63). A wooden font from Alnö in Norrland, Sweden, which iconographically much resembles the Jellinge stone, has a fettered lion on its foot and figures recalling the Jellinge representation of Christ on its bowl. The figures are entwined with band ornamentation (fig. 11). This font was probably made about 1100 A. D. 43), which would suggest that the iconographic form of the Jellinge stone had such an influence on Scandinavian art that its effects, direct or indirect, can be traced in the ecclesiastical art of Norr­land right up to the Early Middle Ages.

The play of illusion, reminiscent of the Jugend Style, which distinguishes certain of the craft-products of the Viking Period is concidered to have its origin in the Borre Style. It is characterized by the ornamentation consisting to some degree of bands or knots, used by the artist in order to give the illusion of binding the underlying ornamentation, or even the background, the actual ornamented surface (fig. 12). This type of ornamentation would lie in the blood of a seafaring race, accustomed to working with ropes, knots and splices. The anchor stone of the Oseberg ship, with its anchor cable, can per­haps give an impression of the sources of inspiration available to the artist of the Jellinge stone when he created its framing ornamentation45).

Very divided opinions have been held as to where the prototypes of the ornamentation and figure representation of the Jellinge stone should be sought. England, Ireland, Scandinavia and Byzantium have all been suggested46). It is the writer's opinion that German art has in this connection been unduly disregarded; Holmqvist, however, does consider that the Jellinge representation of Christ may possibly have parallels on the continent, around the Lower Rhine and elsewhere 33), though it appears more · natural to him to seek the prototype in insular art, and particularly in South England. Lindqvist reverts to the view that the stone was carved by a Dane in accordance with Scandinavian conventions 63).

The secular and ecclesiastical history of Dana-German relations, however, shows that Germany exhibited considerable interest in converting Denmark to a dependency. To what extent this succeeded is the subject of lively discussion 47). It would appear certain, however, that it was at the initiative of Otto I that Denmark was organised ecclesiastically into diocese. In other ways, too, it would appear that German influence left its mark on Denmark. On the other hand connections with England appear to have been severed between 954 and 980. No Viking expeditions are dispatched during this period, while England followed a firm nationalistic policy.

The present writer considers it therefore highly probable that the Jellinge stone was raised as a result of collaboration between Harald and Hamburg-­Bremen. The Emperor would himself have been very interested in the erection of a monument at the actual royal seat in Denmark which would show that Harald was Christian and thereby - from a German standpoint - subordinate to the German Emperor, who was God's deputy on earth. It is, however, unlikely, as discussed above, that any additional text glorifying Harald's exploits would be sanctioned so long as the representatives of Hamburg-Bremen were in a position to watch effectively over the interest of the Empire of the Ottos in Denmark.

It is unfortunate that works of art in stone from the 9th Century are much less frequent in Germany than in the islands, but it should not be forgotten that an intensive building of cathedrals and monasteries took place in Germany in the latter half of the 9th Century 48). Two German stone crucifixes, however, show a quite close agreement with the representation of Christ on the Jellinge stone (fig. 13) 49) 50). The griffon, too, may well have been influenced by the art of the Empire of the Ottos. A majority of the details on the manuscript page shown in fig. 14 51) afford a close degree of agreement with the Jellinge griffon. Griffons moreover occur frequently in North Italian art in the 9th Century, being often executed in low relief 52) 53).

That German art influenced the rune-stone art which flourished in Scania some decades after the carving of the Jellinge stone becomes obvious if we compare the Hunnestad stones (fig. 15) with a number of the illustrations in Otto III's gospel hook (fig. 16). In particular the emphasized joints are a persistent feature in certain manuscripts from Reichenau of this period 56). Another obvious point of resemblance is between the face on the Lundagård stone (fig. 17), with its forked acanthus beard, and a manuscript from Regens­burg (fig. 18), though here the leaves are arranged to form hair or horns.

Hans Christiansen





Christiansen, H. (1953). Jellingestenens bildvärld. Kuml, 3(3), 72–101. Hentet fra