The exhibition “Gudvelkomnir, gódu vinir!” (“Heartily welcome, dear friends!”) opened in the National Museum of Iceland earlier this month.
The exhibition features decorated drinking horns, which bear witness to the artistic talent of Icelandic carvers through the centuries, a press release states.
The museum also displays carved chests and shafts, a further testimony to the rich carving tradition in Iceland.
The carving style is characterized by stylized and abstract patterns, although Bible scenes were also an inspiration, and inscriptions from the Bible and monograms were common too (the exhibition’s title is from an inscription on one of the horns).
In paganism, drinking to the honor of Ódinn and other gods was practiced. The tradition remained after the conversion to Christianity in 1000 AD, only then God, Jesus and other holy persons were honored. Churches often possessed drinking horns.
The oldest preserved horns are from the Middle Ages. The tradition was still strong well into the 17th century and survived until the 19th century.
At first, mead was usually drunk from the broader end of the horns but gradually they became ideal for storing brennivín, burnt wine, and then the broader end of the horn was closed. A hole drilled into the narrow end, which was fixed with a cork to keep the liquid in.
After firearms were introduced in Iceland, the brennivín horns were sometimes used for storing gunpowder.
Carved horns were popular among tourists who visited Iceland in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many Icelandic horns are now stored in European museums.