Culture in Norway

Situated far from centres of culture such as Florence, Rome and Paris, Norway has often been isolated from major European cultural trends and developments. Yet a strong culture was flourishing here from at least the ninth century.

Findings from burial sites indicate that the Vikings were great shipbuilders with a strongly-developed artistic tradition represented in crafts, wood carving and jewellery. Significantly, these skills were also passed on to those parts of Europe which they occupied. The beautifully-decorated stave churches built after Christianity was introduced into Norway also underscore the artistic abilities of the Norwegian people. The Gothic cathedral of Trondheim, known as Nidarosdomen, represents a golden age of Norwegian cultural development. It was the last monument to be erected before the dark era in which nearly half the population was wiped out by bubonic plague and Norway ceased to be an independent state.

During the union with Denmark, Copenhagen functioned as the capital of Norway, so that not only the written language, but also Norwegian culture and artistic life became strongly influenced by Denmark. In Copenhagen Norwegian artists found work opportunities which were simply not available to them in Norway; Ludvig Holberg staged his early plays there, whilst Copenhagen’s University was the only institution at which Norwegians could undertake academic studies. As a result, when it was finally reinstated as an independent nation, Norway had relatively little of the cultural life so typical of other European capitals during the 19th century. However, a vigorous culture was developing in the regions, embracing architecture, decorative arts, music and folk tales. Furthermore, when Romanticism experienced its breakthrough in Europe, Norwegian artists found ready inspiration in the breathtaking landscapes of their motherland. Subsequently the second half of the 19th century witnessed a new era of rich artistic development and the work of Henrik Ibsen, alongside the paintings of Edvard Munch, became a part of international cultural history.

During the course of the 20th century Norway, like many other countries, was affected by many foreign (and particularly since World War II, American) cultural influences. This development, taking place against a background of widespread determination to uphold and support the uniqueness of Norwegian culture, has created an interesting mixed expression in contemporary Norwegian artistic life.

In recent decades the Norwegian cultural sector has prospered and a number of literary and performing artists – particularly in the fields of contemporary dance, fine arts and music – have won international acclaim for their work. It is hoped that in the future their achievements will be recognised alongside the more high-profile activities of Norway’s scientists and adventurers who have hitherto been responsible for putting Norway on the world map.

This section takes a look at developments and trends in each Norwegian cultural sector, backed up with detailed directory entries for key organisations and bodies throughout the country. Where possible, other web resources are listed to enable the reader to go deeper into each sector.