Iceland Arts and Music


The influence of Scandinavian and Insular cultures, evident in the metal objects found in the Viking tombs, persisted even after the conversion to Christianity, sometimes in conjunction with Byzantine stylistic features. The pagan and medieval works preserved in the Reykjavík National Museum (wood carvings, embroidered frontals) are significant. These, and the carved portal (about 1200) of the church of Valthjófsstadir, attest to renewed contacts with the continent and England, also evident in the miniature which has its most significant expression in the Book of Flatöy (late 14th century, Reykjavík Institute of Manuscripts). An interesting model book (Arnamagne coll.) Also reveals a monumental pictorial activity, frescoes and altarpieces, which the advent of the Reformation probably contributed to destroy. ● Only from the middle of the 19th century, with the nationalistic awakening, did we witness a new artistic vitality; in addition to the usual training in the Copenhagen academy, the artists studied in European and, from the second half of the 20th century, American cities. S. Gudmundsson, skilled portraitist, founds the National Museum of Iceland, landscape painter TB Thorláksson plays an important role with Listvinafélag (Friends of the Art Society); Symbolist accents mark J. Kjrval’s paintings and E. Jónsson’s sculptures. The painter F. Jónsson and the sculptor A. Sveinsson are pioneers of abstract art, of which important exponents are, for painting, N. Triggvadottir, K. Davídsson and, for sculpture, H. Gerdur, JG Arnason. Errò, who moved to Paris, offers a personal vision of surrealism. After the dissolution of the artistic group SÚM (founded in 1965), which stood as an alternative to the official art of the country, the new point of reference was the Sudurgata 7 group, aimed at representing the most diverse artistic disciplines, such as dance, music, theater, cinema, literature. An important institution operating in the same perspective is the Nílistanrsafnid (Living Art Museum), active since 1978. They have been working since the 1980s in the context of a new figuration G. Örn, HT Frifjónsson; in conceptual art K. Guömundsson and H. Fridfinnsson, J. Eyfells (who moved to the United States in 1969) who, together with the Swiss painter and poet D. Roth (in Iceland from 1957 to 1964 with the name of Diter Rot), he was a fundamental figure for contacts with the most advanced European and American artistic trends. Also worthy of mention is the painter SA Sigurdsson; B. Andrésson, author of installations; S. Valsulka (from the 1960s in the United States), video; artist. ● Culturally isolated until the 19th century, from the end of the 20th century. Icelandic architectural culture was invested in a spirit of renewal very close to the international avant-garde movements and developed the legacy of Nordic modernism introduced by A. Aalto in the 1960s. The capital, Reykjavík, thus saw the rise of new buildings of representation, whose presence is imposed in the urban context through the use of a technological language, strongly influenced by adverse weather conditions and the grandeur of the surrounding landscape. Among the main interpreters of Icelandic contemporary architecture: the Granda studio (City Hall, 1992; Court of Justice, 1996; Kringlan shopping center, 1999; new headquarters of the Art Museum, 2000; all in Reykjavík); Vinnustofa Arkitekta studio (new building for the Blue Lagoon spa complex, Grindavik, 1999) and P. Kristmundsson (sport club Próttur in Reykjavík, 1999; seat of the Icelandic embassy in Berlin, 2003).


The first musical evidence dates back to the process of Christianization of the island which began around 1000. The presence of religious centers where singing was also taught is testified by the Officium Sancti Thorlaci dating back to the second half of the 12th century. With the Reformation we witness the introduction of Protestant choirs, collected above all in the Gradual published in 1594 by Bishop G. Dorláksson (reprinted 19 times). Popular music was collected in the late nineteenth century by B. Dorsteinsson, work continued in the twentieth century by Icelandic Radio and other national institutions. Among the best known composers J. Helgason (1839-1903), who in 1862 established the first choir in Reykjavík, and S. Sveinbjörnsson (1847-1927), also author of the national anthem O Gud vors lands (“O Signore della nostra Earth”). Among the composers of the twentieth century, many of whom trained or worked abroad, A. Thronsteinson (1870-1962), S. Einarsson (1877-1939), P. Isólfsson (1893-1974) and S. Dórdarson (1895-1968). Then there is a group of contemporary musicians close to twelve-tone and experimentalism.

Iceland Arts

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