This watercolor illustration, by the Danish artist Lorenz Frølich (c. 1820-1908), depicts the famous troll-slaying and lightning-wielding god, Thor, from Norse mythology. As a mighty god in his own right and the leading son of the high-god, Odin, Thor was the second most influential deity of the Norse pantheon, sometimes even eclipsing his father in the worship he inspired. On his most famous symbols and Thor’s status among the gods, the Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241) stated:
“Thor is the foremost among them. Called Thor of the Æsir and Thor the Charioteer, he is the strongest of all gods and men…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).
This, then, is the figure that Lorenz Frølich re-creates in his watercolor painting. It shows Thor peacefully resting on a bear skin and wielding his storied hammer, Mjollnir. His garments, perhaps, are cinched with his Belt of Strength. All that is missing from the ensemble is Thor’s iron gloves. According to Snorri Sturluson’s account, Mjollnir’s power should be negatively affecting Thor’s gloveless hands in some way or another, but the god in Lorenz Frølich’s artwork seems to be ignoring whatever discomfort arises from his hammer as he peacefully lounges on the bearskin-draped seat.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.