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After the Black Death: Painting and Polychrome Sculpture in Norway, 1350‒1550

An interdisciplinary project based in Conservation Studies centres on the Cultural History Museum’s collection of late-medieval liturgical objects. Presentation in Norwegian

St Olav, Skjervøy altarpiece, KHM C3000, raking light (photo: Helene Skoglund-Johnsen)

About the Project

‘After the Black Death: Painting and Polychrome Sculpture in Norway’ is supported by the Research Council of Norway with NOK 9 million for research and development (2014-2018). The project network includes researchers from the University of Oslo and the Centre for Art Technological Studies and Conservation (CATS) in Copenhagen, as well as advisors from University of Uppsala and New York University.

Research Council Number: ES512866



‘After the Black Death: Painting and Polychrome Sculpture in Norway’ centres on c. 65 examples of late-medieval church art (folding altarpieces, shrines, sculptures and crucifixes) owned by the Museum of Cultural History (KHM) University of Oslo (UiO). The majority is thought to have been imported to Norway from northern Germany and the Low Countries after 1350, and possibly as late as the 1550s –­ between the first wave of Bubonic Plague and the early years of the Reformation. The objective is to publish new narratives for this collection, drawing on the interdisciplinary practices common to conservation. Publications will be coupled with exhibitions to engender more positive attitudes to objects imported to Norway after 1350.

In the 75+ years since the collection was last systematically studied (see Engelstad’s 1936 book Senmiddelalderens kunst i Norge) scientists have developed innovative methods for characterising paint, gilding and the wood used for carving and frames. Such material data will allow project investigators to build on art-historical attributions, and to provide a context for these currently de-contextualised works of art. This research will facilitate a far more complete understanding of profoundly altered objects than has been possible before.

Visualising the original and interim appearances of altarpieces and sculptures creates intellectual access to earlier perceptions of objects that were once central to late-medieval church culture across this country. While this is significant in itself, understanding appearances/functions over time is only the first step. The process of examination and interpretation aims to inform far larger debates, especially those that address foreign influences on Norwegian cultural landscapes. Foreign origins and Catholic associations have conditioned negative ideas about so-called Hanseatic art and Norway’s decline after 1350. Moreover, objects of this kind continue to sit outside of Norwegian national narratives. The project therefore aims to unravel and unveil the positive aspects of cultural exchanges during Dansketiden.

The research agenda has been designed to cultivate new understandings of conservation research and its contemporary implications. Scientific studies, networking and the airing of integrated results will continue between 2014 and 2017.


Research Network

The project is led by Dr Noëlle Streeton (principal investigator) and Professor Tine Frøysaker (project manager/project investigator), who have assembled an international network of diverse researchers. This includes conservators, chemists and historians, working in three faculties at University of Oslo: the Faculty of Humanities, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and the Museum of Cultural History (KHM). A PhD research fellow will join Conservation Studies early in 2015. Dr Elena Platania was hired as a post-doctoral fellow in Chemistry to contribute to materials research, and a second advanced researcher will be hired to work with Dr Peter Bjerregaard and KHM exhibition research.

The UiO team will work closely with researchers at the CATS Centre in Copenhagen, who include Professor Jørgen Wadum, CATS Director and Professor of Conservation and Restoration at the University of Amsterdam, Dr Aoife Daly (dendrochronology) and Dr Anna Vila (conservation scientist). The CATS team with contribute to materials research and historical contextualisation of results.


Norwegian Research Council

University of Oslo småforsk




Published Feb. 24, 2012 3:47 PM - Last modified Dec. 21, 2018 2:42 PM