Fra det britiske kunsmagasinet Studio International 1908

the studio

“Most travellers in Norway must have
noticed that almost every man wears a
short knife on his left hip. In some
places it is the custom to wear this knife
on the right side, where, according to
archaeologists, swords were worn during the Bronze period. For close combat this seems to be a more convenient place to have it. It is said that in olden times the Norwegians were quick to take to the knife, but in our days the conditions are not so dangerous as they were four
hundred years ago, although it does
happen even nowadays that a meeting
with the brown bear in the woods necessitates immediate recourse to the short knife as the sole means of defence.

In daily work the knife is nearly as
necessary as the right hand, and as soon as the Norwegian boy has arrived at the age when his dignity is expressed by an enormous
pair of trousers, the knife is also there. His first medium for expressing his ideas is not the lead pencil or the pen, but the knife. When tending the cattle in the wood he whiles away the time by cutting pipes or the national long » Lur » for playing the popular tunes, or he cuts a little box with secret locks, decorated with the primitive
ornaments he has seen in his home, for safeguarding his modest valuables.

Woodcarving is certainly the most popular art in Norway, and has been so from time immemorial. We can see this on the 8th or 9th century Viking ship which was discovered last year; the stem and other parts are beautifully decorated by carved ornaments.

The wooden churches dating from the nth and 12th centuries also show rich work of the same kind, especially
the doors, which are framed by carved plait-work, dragons twined together in endless windings.

Our great historian, the late Prof. Sophus Bugge, has proved that the northern mythology, with its Odin and Thor, is a variation of the Greek mythology. The ornament, too, has its relationship with other European
styles, especially the Roman and Byzantine.

It would have been interesting to study the transformation of the Roman style of church from stone to wood, but this would lead too far from the subject in which I want to interest readers—the peasant architecture
as seen in old buildings of a secular or
«profane» kind. It seems strange that in such a mountainous country as Norway
wood and not stone should be used for
building houses, but our stone is not so well fitted for this purpose, being for one thingnmuch too hard : wood is far easier to work, and is also much more comfortable for houses in cold climates.

The first impression of a Norwegian
peasant homestead is that it consists of so many separate buildings. There are not several rooms for different purposes in the same house, but for each purpose another house.

The most prominent in appearance and in architecture is the storehouse — the «Stabur» or loft. The first house the peasant shows a visitor with pride is the loft, and a well-filled loft is an
unfailing sign of prosperity or even wealth.

The loft is built on posts to ensure dryness and to prevent mice from entering. The rat is a foreigner and has not yet reached the inner parts
of Norway. The ground floor in this building


contains all kinds of provisions, the national dry bread—in large sheets, thin as paper, piled up from floor to ceiling -dried meat, bacon and ham often so old that it cannot be used, all stored in enormous quantities.
A ladder leads up to the second story, which consists of a room surrounded by a corridor. In this room are contained stores of furs and dresses, enough for the whole life of every
member of the family. Large chests contain the more private
possessions of the different persons—great silver jugs, the bridal crown and belt, and other things. A few beds are
placed here for guests, but as there is no fireplace the cold in winter must be rather hard to endure. The exterior of the loft is richly decorated with columns and carved framings on
the door, which occasionally shows some good ironwork.

In the dwelling-house proper a narrow entrance corridor
leads to a large room with raftered ceiling and an open fireplace in the middle of the room, whence the smoke
ascends through a hole in the ceiling above—hence the name
» Røgstue,» or smoke-room. As there
are no windows the only light entering
the room comes from the same hole
or through the open doorway. Behind
this principal room there are two smallnsleeping chambers with flat ceilings, the space between these and the sloping roof above being used for
drying wood and sometimes as a
sleeping place. Over the fireplace is a
wooden dragon-shaped beam for hanging the cooking pots. The entrance is very low pitched and considerably above the ground level, so that passing in and out offers some difficulty.

This feature is probably a relic of the olden



times when, as the sagas tell us, much fighting went on, and houses had to be built to resist the attacks of armed men. In the Njaal saga, for instance, it is told how the enemies of Gunnar
had to lift the roof off with ropes before they could kill him with arrows.

The floor of the living-room is simply earth trodden down to make it firm. The floor of the king’s hall in ancient times was the same, only covered with straw. Facing the entrance-door,
where the husband had his seat, there
were wooden columns carved with ornaments, and on the top the House-Gods on either side ; but these columns are no longer seen.
Inside, behind the long table, are placed long benches on which everyone has his place according to his social position. In the days of old every warrior in the king’s hall had his bed behind his seat—probably
in a narrow alcove shut off from the
hall by tapestries—and on the face of the walls dividing these little cabins one from the other were hung the warriors» weapons, just beneath the irons which held then torches, and within easy reach in case of
a sudden call to arms.

These » smoke houses » have very simple exteriors. One of the richest is shown innmy drawing from Rauland. This house was recently removed to the Folkemuseum at Bygdo, near Christiania.

By contact with more civilized
nations, and especiallynEngland, the king’s hall bevare by degrees more
comfortable, not to say luxurious. Olaf Kyrre transferred the fireplace from
the middle of the room to the comer, and instead of being an open fireplace it was converted into a hugenstone oven ; but the chimneynwas not yet introduced, and so every time the stovenwas lit the room was filled
with smoke, which was onlyn allowed to escape when the mass of stone became quite warm. In consequence of this the king’s seat was shifted to the opposite corner of the fireplace.

Not until after the i6th century were chimneys introduced into the houses of the peasants, the hole in the roof closed, windows put in the walls, and the room made more comfortable with furniture.

The » loft » and the dwelling-house proper are always the most interesting portions of the Norwegian
homestead. The stable and «harvest
houses » are very primitive, and without special architectural features. Amongst the other houses
is the » Skaale,» close to the dwelling-house, where


the wood is chopped and other work is done. The » Badstue,» or bath-house, where formerly a steam bath was prepared, as in Russia nowadays,
by throwing water on hot stones, is, alas, no longer used for this purpose, but only for drying the com and malt used in brewing.

The «Eldhus,» or fire -house, is used for
cooking, brewing and washing. Then there is the smithy, and, at the nearest brook, the corn and saw-mills. Very often some of these houses are
duplicated, especially the loft and the dwellinghouse.

The buildings form a square round the
» Tun,» or yard, and with their darkened walls and grass-covered roofs look very picturesque. As I have mentioned before concerning the
churches, the Roman style is the oldest, and the «profane » buildings, dating from the thirteenth
century, may be said to belong to the same style.

Before Norway was Christianised, about the year AD. looo, the Norwegians often visited foreign
countries, conquering wherever they could, and often settling permanently, as in Normandy, Ireland, and parts of England. To become a Viking and go forth on one of these excursions
was considered the finishing touch to the education of a young nobleman, who on his return would be proud to relate his adventures—in verse
if he was anything of a » skald.» In later times the more friendly trading relations established with other nations had a great influence on
Norwegian architecture and crafts. In the ecclesiastical buildings, however, pagan motifs continued to be used for decorative purposes. Elaborate
carvings of dragons and other legendary figures and subjects were mixed up with the demons of
mediaeval Christianity. In the secular buildings the dragon seems to have lost its sinister aspect, or has given place to wreaths, festoons, and other
forms of leaf ornament.

The oldest profane buildings now left date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The entrance door of the Rauland house which I have mentioned
before has over it an inscription in runic letters, which reads, when translated, «Torgaut Fifil made
me.» Whether this refers to the entire house or only to the wood carving it is difficult to say.

These Runic inscriptions were, judging from their character, carved before the year 1300. The style of ornament shows how near the old Norwegian
style is to the Irish. Is this similarity due to direct influence or descent from a common origin?

It is surprising that our architecture shows so little trace of the Renaissance. The export of wood to Holland was very great ; the sailors
brought home oak furniture, which was copied by the peasants in their primitive way, but in domestic
architecture no appreciable influence can be traced.

From the 17th and iSth centuries, however, French influence can be seen clearly, the Danish officials
who came to Norway when the two countries were united having brought more refined ideasnand tastes with them.


The upper part of Hallingdal is one of the most interesting regions of Norway, for we find there houses belongingnto all the different
periods. The » Loft » at Stave is probably one of the oldest in Norway, dating from the 13th century. It is built
without the usual posts on a stone foundation of exceptionallyngood construction.

The legend tells us thatnduring the black plague (1349), when nearly all the people who remained in the
valleys were smitten and died, a young girl lived in this loft a whole year, and was found alive when people came back. In this building
the Roman style is clearly pronounced.

entrance door to the second storey, shown in my drawing, with its carved semicircular arch and primitive columns, gives a good idea of the Roman style translated from stone into wood. In the 1 8th century there lived in this part of the country a peasant with a remarkable talent for
architecture. His name was Torkel Villand ; he belonged to the old Villand family, who were more like vikings than ordinary peasants. Jollef was
elected magistrate, and must therefore have been a man of some learning, but his greatest interest was house-building, and fortunately several of the houses he built are still extant. The Thingstue or court-house at Sundre Aall is his largest building,
and was probably intended to be his masterpiece.

He has endeavoured to give unusual dignity to the building, and it is highly probable that he had some foreign building in his mind. In the portico, for instance, there is nothing that reminds one either of the secular or ecclesiastical style of building in Norway. The » Grete-stue » at Aal is
another good specimen of Villand’s work.

The nearest valley westward of Hallingdal is Numedal, a day’s walk across the mountains. The
influence of the barock style in the building here is shown by the heavy columns. Saetersdal is the most interesting valley in the
the whole of Norway. It is exactly as it was two hundred years ago—language, costumes, songs, and
life in general are as they were in the middle ages.

W.M. Peters.

Transkripsjon © Olav Sataslåtten