FATAL SPINSTERS: THREAD WORK IN 19th-CENTURY ARTISTIC DEPICTIONS OF NORSE MYTHOLOGICAL WOMEN
Cover image (Dossier): Erman Freund, Thor, siddende, støttet til sin hammer, 1828-29, SMK, The National Gallery of Denmark, public domain: https://open.smk.dk/en/artwork/
Spinning, weaving and thread work in general are common occurrences in tales and legends across the world, but in the case of Norse mythology, the motif is actually rare. Despite the scarcity of textual material tying Norse mythological women to these crafts, the national-romantic artistic production of the 19th century took this motif and ran with it. We find spinning and weaving Norns, valkyries and goddesses in paintings, engravings and sculptures. Although the thread work motif is inaccurate at best to the source material, it is efficient in conveying different stereotypes that participate in the narrative effort of artistic compositions. This paper looks into 19th-century art and scientific literature of the period in order to determine why and how the thread work motif came to be associated with Norse mythological women: be it the influence of the classical Fates motif, the varying translations of the source material or the clichés tied to women and their crafts, there are several reasons why thread work was deemed appropriate to represent the women of the Norse pantheon.
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