Gallery of reconstructed portraits
Norsemen = people from Scandinavia, ca. 800–1100 ce;
Norwegians = people from Norway;
Normans = people from Normandy (France);
Vikings = Norsemen on raid.
At the end of the tenth century ce the Scandinavians dominated the North Sea, Baltic Sea, and the northern Atlantic. As ‘Vikings’ they had raided the shores and, sailing the rivers, sites far inland. As ‘Norsemen’ they had settled in conquered areas. The Swedes had built up a trade network along the Eastern European waterways and were locally known as the Rus — the ‘Rowers’. Many Danes had settled in England (the region of the Danelag or Danelaw) and in Northern France, where it's still called ‘Normandy’. Meanwhile, the Norwegians had colonized the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides, the Shetlands, the Faroese, Iceland, and Greenland. The American continent was the logical next step. Leif Ericsson (*970–†1020 ce, in Old Norse ‘Leifr Eiríksson’) was a born explorer, for his father — Eric the Red (‘Eiríkr raudi’) — had founded the Greenland colony. About the year 1000 ce Leif Ericsson and his shipmates set sail and left Greenland to search the land that, according to rumours, could be found even further to the west. He found Helluland (= ‘Flat-stone-land’, now Baffin Island), Markland (= ‘Forrest-land’, now Labrador), and sailed to Vinland (= ‘Meadow-land’, now Newfoundland), where he stayed for the winter. Leif Ericsson was the first European on American soil, but at the time that wasn't the reason to name him ‘Leif the Lucky’ (‘Leifr hinn heppni’). He obtained this nickname only after rescuing some shipwrecked people on the journey back to Greenland. After a few years the settlement on Vinland was abandoned, under pressure of indigenous Skrælingjar (= ‘Ugly People’ — at least according to the Norsemen; possibly Inuit or Beothuk) and a worsening climate.
How should we picture the appearance of Leif Ericsson? The most reliable record on the story of Leif Ericsson is the Greenlanders' Saga, but in regard to his looks it doesn't mention anything other than that he was an impressive man. It's nevertheless apparent that he was a sailor rather than a warrior, a ‘Norseman’ rather than a ‘Viking’. The two types were depicted together on both the Norman Bayeux Tapestry from the eleventh century ce and the Hylestad Portal, a Norwegian wood carving from the twelfth century ce. The warrior wore a conic helmet with nose guard, a sword, a long shield, and sometimes a coat of mail. The dress of the unarmed Norseman — sailor, craftsman, or farmer — was limited to a long shirt, a girdle, long, narrow trousers, short shoes, and occasionally a cloak. The shirt was tight at the top, loose below the waist, and had long sleeves. Whereas the combatants generally had their hair short-cropped and their face smoothly shaved, the other men sometimes wore longer hair, with a decently well-kempt beard or moustache.
Which style was generally accepted at the time of Leif Ericsson? The art of the Norsemen is especially recognizable by the decorations with winding plants and twisted loops. The Danish Great Jelling Stone from the tenth century ce is a nice example thereof. Humans are also represented elegantly, sometimes with naively deformed limbs. The images are flat and they contain no depth. Though overlaps and cut-offs do occur, like on the Bayeux Tapestry, most depicted objects and scenes were put next to one another or they were ‘stacked’. Some figures seem to float in the surrounding space. The images on the early Swedish Picture Stone from Tängelgårda simply consist of light silhouettes in side view against a dark background. The embroidery of the Bayeux Tapestry consists of lines and fields in the main colours dark green, grey–blue, red–brown, ochre, and black, on a light surface. The colours were applied purely: they don't blend into one another.
The following details were included in the reconstructed portrait. Leif Ericsson wears a beard and long hair. Individuals with this hairstyle can be found on the Bayeux Tapestry and the Hylestad Portal. His hair is somewhat reddish, because his father (Eric ‘the Red’) had red hair. The clothing is simple and the pleats were modelled on the examples on the Bayeux Tapestry. The reproduction of the body (with the face and the legs in side view) is similar to the silhouettes on the Picture Stone from Tängelgårda. The ship — not one of the well known drakar (battleships) but a knorr (cargo ship) — is a mix of the ships on the Bayeux Tapestry and the ship on the Picture Stone from Tängelgårda. The border decoration was inspired by the Great Jelling Stone. Leif Ericsson gives direction with his hand, but not necessarily towards the west. The exploration of a certain point of the compass was less important than finding new land — wherever.
Do you have a suggestion or remark concerning this reconstruction? All comments are much appreciated. Are you curious about what this portrait would look like today, if it had existed and if it had been preserved? One of the forgeries was based on this reconstruction.
Alternatives for ‘Leif Ericsson’: Leiv / Leif / Leifur / Leifr — Ericson / Erikson / Erickson / Eirikson / Eiríkson / Ericsson / Eriksson / Ericksson / Eiriksson / Eiríksson / de Gelukkige / the Lucky / hinn heppni.
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