Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Traditions and Common Motifs

History of Scandinavian and Swedish Folk Art Traditions

Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art — Folk art is as old as human civilization. Created by untrained artists for decorative and symbolic purposes, folk art gives an insight into the local culture and traditions of the time.

Scandinavia has rich and colorful folk art traditions because the region was somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe until relatively recently. Therefore, its folk art and traditional handicraft evolved largely untouched by mainstream European culture.

Rather than becoming a weakness, it has become a strength, which is evident from the influence that Scandinavian folk art has on modern art and design.

Vintage Swedish Folk Art Rug Depicting Nils Holgersson by Nazmiyal
Vintage Swedish Folk Art Rug 47561

The history of Scandinavian folk art can be traced back to the Viking period, when the marauding seafarers did not just terrorize the shores of western and northern Europe, but also created beautiful works of art in their free time.

The most prized possession of the Vikings were their ships, which were used for both war and trade. Excavated Viking ships have shown that they were richly decorated with pictures of interwoven animals and mythical beasts.

Vintage Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Kilim by Nazmiyal
Vintage Swedish Scandinavian Folk Art Kilim 48336

Scandinavian folk art also draws heavily from fables and allegories. The vintage carpet above, on the left, shows the story of Nils Holgersson, a folk tale about a badly behaved boy who is cursed by a Tomte, or Swedish elf, and is shrunken to only inches tall.

After climbing on the back of a domestic goose on his family farm, the goose flies away and joins a pack of wild geese, and Nils and the goose go on a series of adventures.

 Nazmiyal Stave Church, c. 1132, Norway
Stave Church, c. 1132, Norway

Even after the Scandinavians converted to Christianity, they continued to use tightly rendered depictions of animals and mythical beasts enmeshed in thick vinework as their main motifs. A fine example of this is the decoration carved on the wooden doors of the Stave Church in Urnes, Norway.

In the following centuries, when Christian missionaries were aggressively promoting Christian motifs, the Scandinavians held on to their indigenous art form.

Scandinavian Folk Art Style by Nazmiyal
Scandinavian Folk Art Style

During the Middle Age, the warring days of the Vikings came to an end. As the culture of Scandinavia transitioned to focus more on agriculture and industry than conquering, folk art began to reflect more peaceful symbols, such as flowers, birds and human figures.

These motifs were deeply tied to legends, stories, and fables in Scandinavian culture. Because of its unique combination of beauty and simplicity, this style continues to be popular today.

Nazmiyal Vintage Swedish Tapestry 48283
Vintage Swedish Tapestry 48283

Folk art’s purpose is to reflect culture and beliefs, but also to decorate the mundanities of life, and to bring pleasure to everyday tasks. For this reason, these motifs are commonly found on everyday household items, such as doors and windows, traditional water jars and buckets, board games, weather-vanes, clocks and textiles.

They are instantly recognizable as folk art because of the simplistic design and recognizable forms. Folk art and motifs are a common feature of Scandinavian carpets and rugs. The motifs that are commonly used on rugs are geometric shapes, which are repeated over and over; but flowers and animals are also used sometimes. Minimalistic, beautiful and elegant, these rugs and carpets are a class apart.

View our entire collection of vintage Scandinavian rugs.

This design blog about Swedish and Scandinavian folk art design traditions was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs.

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