This artwork is one of many illustrations made for an 1899 reprint of the Heimskringla, a medieval collection of sagas, composed by Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), that tells the story of Norwegian rulers from mythical times up to the reign of King Magnus Erlingsson (r. 1162-1184). Artists such as Erik Werenskiold, Christian Krohg, Halfdan Egedius, Gerhard Munthe, Eilif Peterssen and Wilhelm Wetlesen were commissioned to produce around seventy images to accompany the bulky text. Although the signature at the bottom right section of the illustration is obscure, it may be that of Erik Werenskiold (c. 1855-1938).
The artist re-created a scene from the Ynglinga saga, which is the first section of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla. The saga traces the legends and tales of folklore about the Yngling Dynasty, starting from the age of myth and ending in the more historically-grounded days of the 9th-century kings of Norway. The figures depicted in this illustration allegedly lived in the earlier days of the Yngling Dynasty, and therefore their story is more legend and folktale than a true historical record. As the story goes, the two men standing on the right side of the image are Gísl and Ondur, disgruntled sons of a certain King Vísbur. The cause of the brothers’ anger was that their father had divorced their mother to marry another woman. Gísl and Ondur left their father’s court along with their mother, and with her, conspired to seek revenge against King Vísbur. In the end, they were said to have gone to a seeress or sorceress named Huld, who helped them in their quest for revenge. Snorri Sturluson told the tale, writing, “Then another incantation was chanted to enable them to kill their father. Then Huld, the sorceress, told them she would bring it about…Then they gathered a host and fell upon Vísbur unawares at night and burned him in his hall” (Heimskringla, Ynglinga saga, chapter 14).
Such is the scene that is depicted in the illustration above. It shows Gísl and Ondur visiting Huld to gain a magical advantage against their father. After the assassination of Vísbur, the vengeful brothers disappear from the narrative. Vísbur was succeeded by Dómaldi, a son produced from his second marriage. Dómaldi was not harassed by his half-brothers, but that did not save the poor king from a gruesome end. As the story goes, Dómaldi was sacrificed by his people in an effort to bring about a better crop yield.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.