Nimble-fingered Maidens in Scandinavia: Women as Artists and Patrons

Nancy L. Wicker, University of Mississippi,

One of the most famous runestones in Scandinavia was raised at Dynna in Norway by a mother to record that she had built a bridge to commemorate her daughter. The girl is memorialized on the stone as “the most nimble-fingered maiden in Hadeland,” perhaps for her weaving or embroidery. In the following paper, I will use this stone as a starting point to consider Scandinavian women from the Migration Period through the Viking Age (ca. 450–1050) as artists and patrons sponsoring runestones and perhaps making jewelry as well as textiles. Over 120 runestones record building a bridge, an act that facilitated transportation and communication during the conversion period. An elite woman who publicly sponsored a stone with such an inscription and explicitly Christian subject matter may have challenged those who had not yet converted and also dared her neighbors to compete. Besides its intriguing inscription, the Dynna stone is remarkable for its depiction of the Christian Nativity with the Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men— scenes that some believe might record the daughter’s textile creations. In Viking society, skill in textiles was highly esteemed, not merely as a “minor” art but as the major art for decorating the interior of Viking halls. Similarly, jewelry was a focal point of Scandinavian artistic production, with women controlling wealth through metalwork as dowries.