Arts and Gardens

The story in the picture

How to portray a story in a picture? Artists have found different solutions to this problem. The pictorial surface has its limitations. It is mostly perceived in one glance - it lacks the time perspective that we use when communicating by text or voice. A common strategy in the Middle Ages was to demonstrate several parts of a sequence of events within the same picture. Another solution was to chain multiple pictures together, as one used to do in altarpieces. Else Christie Kielland used the latter strategy in her three paintings at the University of Bergen, with motifs from Norse mythology.

© Else Christie Kielland: Helge Hundingsbane II, 1933.
© Else Christie Kielland: Helge Hundingsbane II, 1933.
Alf Edgar Andresen
© Else Christie Kielland: Helge Hundingsbane I, 1933.
© Else Christie Kielland: Helge Hundingsbane I, 1933.
Alf E. Andresen

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The paintings Helge Hundingsbane I and Helge Hundingsbane II are the side canvases in a triptych that also includes Balder’s death. It is not entirely clear how the titles relate to the content of the pictures, or to each other. They are dominated by surfaces of different colors, and the characters’ facial features are vaguely hinted, giving them a slightly generic appearance.

The Helge Hundingsbane paintings refer to a legend from the Elder Edda. Helge was a legendary hero who got his nickname after he killed Hunding, king of the Saxons. In Helge Hundingsbane I we see a bearded man, with a horse and a pregnant woman, in front of a white tree. A rooster is perched in the tree. The painting depicts Helge’s birth, but the scene is also reminiscent of the Biblical holy family’s flight to Egypt.

Both pictures show the landscape in flattened forms. Each element is flat, and with a given color. Helge Hundingsbane II also features a bird in a prominent position. This one is black, and hovering above a man who stands alone next to a house in a valley. The man is holding a spear, directed upwards toward the bird. The most striking thing about the picture is how everything is shown from different angles. The man is depicted from the front, although we understand that he is on the ground, and thus far below the bird, which is shown from above. Similarly, the river, mountains, trees and house are all viewed from different perspectives, according to the impression that the artist wished to achieve.