Bild des Monats November 2012: Sigurd the dragonslayer (To view details, click on ‹Lupe› above)
The legend of Sigurd/Siegfried is depicted on these thirteenth-century doorjambs from the church at Hylestad in southern Norway. The right jamb shows, from the bottom: the blacksmith Regin at work, the beardless and helmeted Sigurd testing a sword, and the dragon Fafnir suffering a sword-thrust through the body, delivered by a crouching Sigurd. At the bottom of the left jamb Sigurd sucks his thumb, burned while prodding Fafnir’s heart, which roasts on a spit in front of him; on the other side of the fire Regin dozes. Two birds sit in the branches above, and tasting the dragon’s blood enables Sigurd to understand their warning that Regin plans to kill him. Above the tree, in a partly natural, partly architectural space, Sigurd holds Regin’s arm with one hand and drives his sword through his chest with the other. Above this the Burgundian king Gunnar lies bound in a snake-pit, playing the harp with his toes. The tops of the jambs and the lintel are lost, and the church to which they belonged was demolished in 1838.
Motifs such as Fafnir’s skewered body, the thumb placed to the lips, and the three slices of heart on the spit persist across the centuries in visual treatments of the Sigurd legend. Both textual and visual sources select and combine episodes from the Sigurd material in various ways, and the relative legibility of this carving for us reflects its closeness to the prose text in Völsunga saga, written down in the early thirteenth century: carving and saga crystallize similar versions of the story. The medial specificity of the carved relief lies in its use of framing, and in particular the device of the medallion, with its close affinities to contemporary manuscript illumination. While transgression of the frame by Regin’s foot and Sigurd’s helmet in the first two medallions merely suggests depth, the incursion of Fafnir’s fire-spewing head into the third is a crossing of the boundary between the meaningful world of the medallion and the non-narrative outside – an uncanny effect reinforced by Fafnir’s body being continuous with the frame. The remaining Sigurd episodes are depicted in a single visual field. The violent energy of the dragon-slaying on the right jamb is mirrored in the scene opposite it, where Regin is killed in a tense constellation of gripping hands and spurts of blood. This scene is unknown to the textual sources, which say Regin was beheaded, and exemplifies in its heightening of pathos the ‹iconographic momentum› (Luca Giuliani, Bild und Mythos) of the visual medium. Regin and Fafnir are brothers; among other things, the portal shows the young hero Sigurd’s extirpation of an ancient lineage.