This painting, by the Norwegian artist Peter Nicolai Arbo (c. 1831-1892), draws inspiration from ancient and early medieval Germanic-Norse religious beliefs. It features a being known as a Valkyrie—a female entity with a broad job description in early Germanic and Norse theology. On the one hand, Valkyries were described as being waitresses in the hall of the high-god, Odin; but on the other hand, the Valkyries could also serve as war deities who oversaw battles and ferried the souls of valiant dead to the realms of the gods. An Icelandic scholar named Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241) included a description of these Valkyries within a list of goddesses in his Prose Edda, writing, “There are still others whose duty it is to serve in Valhalla. They bring drink and see to the table and the ale cups…These women are called valkyries. They are sent by Odin to every battle, where they choose which men die and they determine who has the victory” (Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, 36). It is the latter of these responsibilities, that of war and death, which seems to be depicted in the painting. One imagines that the armed and armored Valkyries seen above are flying to a battlefield.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.