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A Visit to the History Museum

First of all: welcome to new friends from the friending meme! I kind of disappeared off the face of the earth of the last two days, as I for the first time in ages actually left the house and spent time with other people.

Remember how I should go to a museum? Well, friday I mostly spend quality time with friends and made the last arrangements for Dimensions in october (and kind of fixed my sleeping schedule by staying up for 24 hours straight), but yesterday stalkerbunny and I went to the History Museum for the first time since they renovated.

(Turns out they weren't quite done renovating, but...)

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What does it say about me that literally the first thing I take a photo of is the sign on the door to the ladies' room?

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Mary and St. Olaf, if I'm not mistaken. Apparently Sweden has perhaps the largest number of well-preserved wooden statues from the Middle Ages in all of Europe, because of the cold climate combined with the fact that when the country became protestant, the statues were mostly stowed away in the church attics rather than destroyed.

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A stone casket with inscriptions in Latin and runes.

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The statue of Mary is from the 12th century, and is probably one of the oldest examples of Christian art made of wood in Sweden. I've always been particularly fond of this one because it's clearly still a very Norse work of art - aesthetically as well as clothes and hair - but with a Christian subject.

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This part of the medieval exhibition (focusing on church art) is probably the most impressive because of its space, and the fact that at some point they installed an entire church ceiling in there.

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Some more random wooden objects.

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Details from a baptismal font in stone, with scenes from the New Testament (the three kings and the Annunciation, with Michael to the left).

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Detail from an altar decoration.

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Another baptismal font from around 1200, with imagery from Norse myth. The story of Gunnar in the snakepit, who manages to charm all snakes with his harp bar one, who then bites him to death, was a common motif in early Christian Scandinavia, as Gunnar got to represent the heathen succumbing to Satan's power.

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And here's Gunnar, with his harp.

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Me! Trying out a 14th century helmet. Part of the reason we went was because of the new exhibition on the Battle of Visby. Seeing as it mostly consisted of bones and equipment from a mass grave, it was quite a sombering experience.

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Every summer the museum arranges viking-themed activities in the inner courtyard, which includes everything from bread-baking to archery and playing hnefatafl (which we did for the first time yesterday, and it was really fun!). I appreciated how they're clearly marketing towards girls as well as boys.

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The inner courtyard (activities obscured by tree).

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Some viking finds, including a Buddha statue.

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The information plaque for this object says it's a stone casket with explicitly Christian text, but imagery from Norse mythology. Frustratingly, they don't say what the image is supposed to portray, and I have never been able to identify despite my not unimpressive level of nerdery. -__-

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Another baptismal font with Gunnar.

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A Gutnish picture stone with heathen imagery.

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Some well-preserved and beautiful hnefatafl pieces.

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Something I've always appreciated about the History Museum is that they've always been very concerned about making their visitors understand history not as facts, but as a construct and how it can be used. They literally have an entire exhibition dedicated to challenging what we think we know about history and making clear how much of archaeology is based on modern-day assumptions about f. e. gender roles (some examples here and here).

When I last visited the museum in december I saw these signs for the first time (and since I hadn't been there for a while they're not exactly brand new, but whatev)-- while serving as infodumps for aspects of Norse mythology, they're also clearly supposed to provide some queer readings of said mythology as well in the shape of alternate gender roles, which is nice. <3

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A finely decorated sword handle-- I was a bit surprised to find that not only swords, but spearheads were often very detailed (to the extent that I'd never noticed the ornaments on the spearheads, despite having been to this museum lots of times).

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We had ice cream before we finally went home. uwu

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( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 6th, 2014 02:04 pm (UTC)
I like the loo sign, lol. Mary could do with cheering up. I like your bag with the eyes:)
Jul. 6th, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
The men's had a sword instead of an axe; I feel like life would be a bit more fun if every public restroom started using this distinction instead of boring old trousers/skirt. And yeah, Mary looks so utterly :C there I've always wondered if we're missing some context or the artist just wasn't very good with emoting.

You can't see it very well in the photo, but it's actually an owl with a red beak, colourful feathers and widdle legs. :D
Jul. 7th, 2014 03:54 pm (UTC)
Jesus had just died? I bet the artist didn't get any follow up work!

You bag looks a cute wee thing, if not Owl-y in your photo.
Jul. 8th, 2014 12:39 pm (UTC)
Wonderful, wonderful pictures! Thank you for sharing. I've seen only a couple of 13-14th century Eastern European wooden statues in the flesh, so to say, but they're not exactly the usual thing and are fascinating. The ones you got - even more so! Yay, history -- and woodcarving, I love it.
Jul. 8th, 2014 03:59 pm (UTC)
And we didn't even enter most parts of the exhibition on medieval art-- we had to hurry downstairs as to not miss the guided tour of the viking exhibition. Which is a shame, because apart from there being a lot more wooden statues I also forgot to find my favourite object in the museum; a triptych from the 14th century that's been the victim of graffiti from the 1300s through the 1600s at least, including messages written in runes. :)
Jul. 8th, 2014 02:28 pm (UTC)
Oh, thanks for sharing!
This the fact that when the country became protestant, the statues were mostly stowed away in the church attics rather than destroyed is very interesting - I wonder if there's any specific reason for that?
What you say about the way the museum presents history is cool too.
Hopefully this will inspire me to go to a museum too. No viking tho. :(
Jul. 8th, 2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
I wonder if there's any specific reason for that?

Well, probably a combination of factors. For one thing, people were unlikely to want to destroy their sacred images just because the king had decided that they should stop venerating saints; they're also very fine pieces of art, with bright colours and sometimes precious metals like gold, and I think a general aversion to the destruction of beautiful things shouldn't be underestimated. And unlike metals, wood can't be reused other than as fuel, so they don't really have any value that isn't religious or artistic. At the same time the statues couldn't occupy the same space in the churches as before by royal decree, so up in the attics they went.

What you say about the way the museum presents history is cool too.

Heh-- there's a skeleton on display in the Prehistories section that was found with a knife and arrows back in the 30s or 40s, I think, and subsequently identified as male. Not until the 70s did they actually look over the remains and found that the man in question had given birth to at least ten children (!). So yeah, the way we write history often says more about us than the people of the past. It's nice that they bring that up, and encourage critical thinking.

We didn't have time to go through the entire museum, mostly because I picked really bad shoes that day-- I kind of want to go back soon. Hopefully you'll manage too, vikings or no vikings. :)
Jul. 9th, 2014 12:52 pm (UTC)
I also thought that was a sign for the bathroom!
Jul. 9th, 2014 01:04 pm (UTC)
It is! A v. good one, if you ask me. :)
Jul. 9th, 2014 01:41 pm (UTC)
By the way, do you watch Vikings?

Edited at 2014-07-09 01:46 pm (UTC)
Jul. 9th, 2014 02:03 pm (UTC)
Nope; I'm pretty bad at watching TV series. I saw some gif sets on Tumblr back when it was new and it seemed interesting, but I never really had the urge or means to look it up.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )