30 Aug 2014

Pagan Art: The Aino Triptych

(click to enlarge)

One of the most renowned painters of pagan subject matter is the Finnish artist Akeseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931). He is particularly well known for his illustrations for the Kalevala, the national pagan epic of Finland that was preserved by the work of the poet Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) in the early 19th-century just as the oral tradition that had preserved it for centuries was starting to die out.

The above work is the "Aino Triptych" (1891), shown with its decorative border featuring the Finnish swastika, a symbol obviously predating the more notorious German one. The three scenes tell the story of the relationship between Vainamoinen, the hero of the Kalevala and the son of the nature goddess Luonnotar, and Aino, the sister of his rival Joukahainen.

After losing a singing contest to Vainamoinen, Joukahainen promises to give his sister to Vainamoinen. The first panel shows the couple's first meeting and Aino's reluctance to marry the aged hero. To escape this fate she threw herself into a lake and drowned becoming in the process a nix, a kind of shape-shifting water sprite, capable of assuming human or fish form.

The main panel shows a scene where Vainamoinen had unwittingly caught Aino in fish form but had then thrown her back as not sufficiently large, only for her to taunt him by turning back into her human form.

The third panel shows Aino weeping on the shore as she listens to the call of the maids of Vellamo, a goddess of the sea.

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