Nancy Wicker

Position title: Solmsen Fellow (2023-2024)

Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Mississippi

This is a headshot of a woman with short white hair.

Art Before and During the Viking Age in Scandinavia and Beyond

Scholarly study of animal-style art of the Viking Age often has been neglected since art history as a discipline in Scandinavia typically commences with medieval Christian art following the Vikings. To address gaps in the treatment of Scandinavian artistic culture and transcend artificial temporal constraints, I consider the art of the ‘long’ Viking Age, a timespan from the fifth-century Migration Period through the late Viking Age in the eleventh century from an interdisciplinary standpoint including archaeological and art historical sources. My focus is on people: patrons who sponsored art, artisans who made the works, people who used and viewed the objects, and the men and women—including heroes and deities in human form—who were depicted. I examine intersecting themes including 1) the production and movement of art and artists, 2) art as a marker of gender and status, and 3) how disparate belief systems are expressed through art. I place this art—whether discovered at home in Scandinavia or abroad, where people of the Viking Age raided, traded, and colonized—into the context of early medieval art. Previous research on Scandinavian animal-style art focused on typological classification and iconographical interpretations, including stylistic and chronological analyses that still form the foundation of these studies. Scholars interested in the iconography of animal-style art often trace connections between imagery on fifth-century gold pendants called bracteates and Scandinavian mythology recorded in thirteenth-century Old Norse literature. However, some researchers argue that although some continuity can be traced in art across this long period, neither the styles nor the myths remained static. Our understanding of artistic workshops continues to develop due to tools and production debris discovered on settlement excavations and through metal-detecting.

Nancy L. Wicker is Professor of Art History at The University of Mississippi. Her research focuses on the art of Scandinavia from the Migration Period (c. 450–550) through the Viking Age (c. 750–1100). She also has published on sensory effects of jewelry, female infanticide, and runic literacy, and has co-edited three books on gender archaeology. Fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities have supported her research. Funded by NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up and Kress Foundation Digital Art History grants, she co-directs the Andvari Project fostering access to northern European art. She participated in archaeological excavations at the UNESCO Heritage Viking trading center of Birka and has investigated early jewelry techniques. Wicker was a Visiting Professor at Uppsala University and is the first woman elected to foreign membership in the Philosophical-Historical Section of the Royal Society of Humanities at Uppsala. She is a member of the Internationales Sachsen Symposion, a research network for the archaeological study of peoples of northern Europe and the British Isles.