Golden Altars in Romanesque Scandinavia


A dozen of spectacular and remarkably well-preserved altar frontals and retables survive from Medieval Scandinavia. Dating from the twelfth to early thirteenth centuries, most of them originate from Denmark; a few from Sweden.

However, fragments and documentary sources testify that this form of adornment of altars was widespread in Western Europe from Carolingian times onwards, the great paliotto of S. Ambrogio in Milan being the oldest surviving example. The Scandinavian golden altars may thus be considered products of a long-lived Western European tradition and also representative of a wider geographical context than just the Nordic countries.

These «golden altars» are complex artifacts, displaying a rich iconographical repertoire as well as theological verse inscriptions. They lend themselves to scrutiny of a number of intriguing questions concerning the use of images in medieval culture, the materiality of cult objects, the relationship between iconography and inscriptions, and more. These are issues I have addressed in my research on the «golden altars».

Relevant publications:

«Ornament and Iconocraphy. Visual Orders in the Golden Altar from Lisbjerg», in: Ornament and Order. Essays on Viking and Medieval Art for Signe Horn Fuglesang, Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press, 2008.

«In sinum Abrae. Romanske forestillinger om paradiset og sjelens vei dit», in: Memento mori. Døden i middelalderens billedverden, L. Liepe & K. B. Aavitsland (eds.), Oslo: Novus Academic Press, 2011.

«Visual Splendour and Verbal Argument in Romanesque Golden Altars», in: Inscriptions in Liturgical Spaces (Acta ad archaeologiam et artium historiam pertinentia), vol. 24, Rome: Bardi Editore, 2011.

Kristin B. Aavitsland, Art Historian