Den britiske kunstneren William Peters’ studier i 1907 av byggestilen i Hallingdal

NORWEGIAN PEASANT ARCHITECTURE BY
WILLIAM PETERS.

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 thing
much 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 thesame
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 lo(t 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

sundre
ASSIZE HOUSE AT SUNDRE AALL, HALLINGDAL, BUILT BY JOLLEF
VILLAND DRAWN BY WILLIAM PETERS
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
» Rogstue,» 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 small
sleeping 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

stoor

ROMANIC DOOR OF A STORE-HOUSE IN
HALLINGDAL (ABOUT A.D. I300)
DRAWN BY WILLIAM PETERS

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 the
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 in
my drawing from Rauland. This house
was recently removed to the Folkemuseum
at Bygdo, near Christiania.

By contact with more civilized
nations, and especially
England, the king’s hall
became 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 huge
stone oven ; but the chimney
was not yet introduced,
and so every time the stove
was lit the room was filled
with smoke, which was only
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

villands

JOLLEF VILLANDS HOUSE, HALLINGDAL
DRAWN BY WILLIAM PETERS
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 ideas
and tastes with them.

stave

The upper part of Hallingdal is one of the most
interesting regions of Norway,
for we find there houses belonging
to 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 exceptionally
good construction.
The legend tells us that
during 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. The
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 Jollef 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
Munedal, 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.
The old people tell tales about knights and princesses,
and the young people do the «stev,» a kind of
impromptu duet, which dates back to the viking
times. In the latter part of the sixteenth century
there lived at Rygnestad, in Saetersdal, a man
named Asmund, whose viking nature gave him
the name of » the wild Asmund.» He fought in
the Netherlands on the Spanish side, and must
have brought home with him many foreign ideas.
On his farm he built a wooden tower of four storeys
without windows, only small holes with slipboards
for shooting. There his books and drawings are
said to be still preserved, and also a wooden god,
which has been the object of secret adoration up
to our days. From this interesting region of
Norway I give an interior from the » Rogstue »
and the court-house at Valle. Since I drew
this house, it has been brought down to Christiansand,
but I hope it has not been restored
in the way several of our old buildings have.
Archaeologists have, it seems to me, a passion
for stripping buildings of their later additions
without being able to restore the earlier portions
which these additions have replaced. As all
the old buildings still extant have been in use
up to our days, it is only natural that each period
should have contributed portions to them, but everything
has grown so well together that to separate
them means destroying the entire fabric. The restoration
of our beautiful cathedral at Trondhjem,
which has been going on for the last fifty years,
shows in a striking way how impossible it is for our
time to give complete expression to the ideas of
the past.
The wooden buildings of Norway are very interesting,
and he who wishes to study them must not
delay ; time fares hard with them, and as Pasquilinus
in old Rome said about the Pantheon, »Quod
nonfecerunt barbari, fecit Barharini.»
W.M. Peters.

Transkripsjon © Olav Sataslåtten

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