This woodcut print, by Constantin Hansen (1804 – 1880) and Södergren (c. 19th century), was inspired by descriptions of the Norse god, Heimdall (or Heimdal). He was the able watchman and sentry of the godly community, possessing an impressive array of qualities, both in physical abilities and acquired equipment, that made him perfect for his task of keeping watch over the realms. From superhuman eyesight, to incredible hearing, not much could get past the divine watchman, and should a threat emerge against the realm of the gods, Heimdall was equipped with a horn that could always reach the ears of his kinsmen, even if they were away in a far-off realm. Heimdall’s odd origin story and his impressive features were summarized by the poet, scholar, historian and saga-writer, Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), who wrote:
“[Heimdall] is called the white god and is powerful and sacred. Nine maidens, all sisters, gave birth to him as their son. He is also known as Hallinskidi and Gullintanni [Gold Toothed], as his teeth are gold. His horse is called Gulltopp [Golden Forelock]. He lives near Bifrost at a place called Himinbjorg. He is the watchman of the gods and sits at heaven’s end, where he keeps watch over the bridge against the mountain giants. He needs less sleep than a bird, and he can see equally by night or by day a distance of a hundred leagues. He hears the grass growing on the earth and the wool on sheep, as well as everything else that makes more noise. He has the horn known as Gjallarhorn, and its blast can be heard in all worlds” (Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter 27).
Such is the figure that inspired the artwork by Constantin Hansen and Södergren. The print depicts the watchman god, Heimdall, gazing off into the distance while using his arm to shade his sensitive eyes from the sunlight. He can be seen carrying the Gjallarhorn, which he would be forced to sound at the time of apocalyptic Ragnarök—the final battle of the Norse gods. During that fight, Heimdall and Loki would engage in a fatal duel and deal each other death blows.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.