This painting, by the Swedish artist Mårten Eskil Winge (1825–1896), depicts the Norse god, Thor (called Tor by the artist and Þórr in old Norse), fighting a group of giants. Perhaps the clash depicted here was more of a surprise ambush instead of a formal battle, as the giants facing Thor do not seem to be particularly prepared or well-armed. Mårten Winge’s depiction of Thor is quite detailed, and the painting includes much of the gear and equipment that was known to be used by the god in tales from Norse mythology. This attention to detail can be seen by comparing and contrasting the painting against the medieval description of Thor by Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241):
“Thor has two male goats called Tanngnoist [Tooth Gnasher] and Tanngrisnir [Snarl Tooth]. He also owns the chariot that they draw, and for this reason he is called Thor the Charioteer. He, too, has three choice possessions. One is the hammer Mjollnir. Frost giants and mountain giants recognize it when it is raised in the air, which is not surprising as it has cracked many a skull among their fathers and kinsmen. His second great treasure is his Megingjard [Belt of Strength]. When he buckles it on, his divine strength doubles. His third possession, the gloves of iron, are also a great treasure. He cannot be without these when he grips the hammer’s shaft” (Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter 21).
Despite the curious exclusion of the gloves of iron, Mårten Winge’s painting includes every other item and creature mentioned in Snorri Sturluson’s paragraph. The two goats, Tanngnoist and Tanngrisnir, are present in the artwork, as is the chariot that they pull. Thor is shown wearing his belt of strength, and he wields his famous hammer, Mjollnir. Even the depiction of Thor battling with the unprepared giants is representative of the typical tales of the god, for he was always eager for a fight with the giants, even if the fight was unprovoked and unnecessary.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.