Oslo is full of top attractions, but don’t miss out on what the locals call Oslo’s best kept secret, Emanuel Vigeland Museum.
If you find yourself in Oslo, you’ll no doubt hear about and encounter the works of the famous Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869 – 1943). He is most widely known for his permanent sculpture installation in Frogner Park (Norwegian: Frognerparken) in Oslo which features 212 bronze and granite sculptures all designed by Gustav himself. Most of the statues depict people engaging in various daily activities, such as running, wrestling, dancing, hugging, and holding hands.
However, some statues depict more abstract themes such as an adult male fighting off a throng of babies. The sculptures culminate in the famous Monolith made up of 121 figures struggling to reach the top of the sculpture. If all this wasn’t enough, Gustav also designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal.
Living in the shadow of his brother’s success and not to be outdone, Emanuel Vigeland set out to build something equally amazing which became his magnum opus. Located just 20 minutes from the centre of Oslo in Slemdal is Emanuel Vigeland Museum, dubbed by locals as one of Oslo’s best-kept secrets.
Constructed in 1926, it was originally purposed as a museum to house Emanuel’s paintings and sculptures. He later decided that the building would serve as his mausoleum, thus all windows were covered up.
The dark, barrel-vaulted room shaped like a windowless church has incredible acoustics which makes speaking aloud virtually impossible. The walls and ceiling are covered in a seamless fresco of naked figures depicting Vita (Latin: Life) including human life, love, and death. It took Emanuel 20 years to complete the 800 square meter fresco. According to the museum’s official website the fresco focuses on:
“Man’s sexual instinct, conveyed through multitudes of naked bodies, women and men in impetuous intimacy.”
Once inside, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the barely lit space. You may think the darkness is exaggerated and that it makes it impossible to fully appreciate Emanuel’s work, but he intended it that way. He reasoned that the longer you stay, the more the fresco will reveal itself to you.
Emanuel’s ashes rest in an urn above the very low and heavy iron door, thus forcing all visitors to bow to him when exiting. It is rumoured that this geste of morbid humour was his posthumous revenge for always being in the shadow of his better known brother Gustav Vigeland.
Influenced by Italian prototypes, Emanuel named his building Tomba Emmanuelle ( Emanuel’s Tomb). The museum was opened to the public in 1959 and plays host to several concerts (sometimes involving didgeridoos) throughout the year.
Unfortunately, the museum is only open to the public for a few short hours on Sundays, so be sure to plan your trip around this unmissable gem. For more information, visit the museum’s official website.
Over to you!
Have you visited this wonderful museum? What did you think? What else is Oslo would you recommend seeing?
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