Pre-Christian Art -- Swedish art began in the Stone Age with rock carvings by cavemen, which depicted hunters and the beasts they pursued. With the coming of the Bronze Age, carvings began to depict more human figures, such as armed men plowing and hunting. From the 5th to the 9th centuries, during the Iron Age and the time of the Vikings, the human figure was mainly ignored in favor of lions, monsters, birds, and fantastic dragons.
Zoomorphic shapes were also used as decorative elements on the runic stones of the era. One of the best examples of this was found in Gotland, depicting the epic journey of a slain warrior's ship to the land of the dead. It dates from the 8th century.
The Middle Ages -- Beginning in the 11th century, the earliest churches were constructed on the sites of pagan temples and were rectangular timber structures. None have survived. By the 12th century, stone became the building material of choice for the construction of Romanesque monasteries and churches. Notable examples of this style include the Lund Cathedral and the Sigtuna Monastery.
Appearing in the 13th century, the Gothic style brought in brick as a building material. The most outstanding example of this style was the Cathedral at Uppsala, north of Stockholm.
About 1,500 Swedish churches, plus a few burghers' houses in Stockholm and Visby, date from the Middle Ages. The 13th-century city walls enveloping Visby are some of the best preserved of their type in Europe, and the layout of Stockholm's Gamla Stan, or Old Town, still follows its medieval routes from the Middle Ages.
Painting in this period consisted mainly of mural paintings in the medieval churches: Storybook illustrations explaining biblical stories were needed as most of the population was illiterate. Wooden altarpieces were also imported into Sweden from Germany.
The Renaissance -- The coming of the Renaissance and the acceptance of the Protestant religion in Sweden in the 16th century brought changes in architectural styles imported from Italy via Belgium and Holland. The castles of Gripsholm were erected, for example, in 1537 during the reign of Gustavus I; the castle at Vadstena was built in 1545. Kalmar Castle, with its massive walls and fusion of medieval and Renaissance features, also was constructed during this period of upheaval.
Painters and sculptors during the 16th and 17th centuries took a back seat. Most art came from European masters imported to the royal courts.
Baroque -- Sweden rose to become a world power in the 17th century, and noblemen built palaces to reflect their newly acquired wealth. Most of these were based on French models. French influences were also in evidence throughout most of the architecture of the 18th century.
Many Swedish artists went abroad, including the sculptor Johan Tobias von Sergel (1740-1814), who spent 12 years in Rome, where he came under a heavy baroque influence. But the baroque never took hold in Sweden the way it did in Germany to the south. Emerging in 1750 and lasting for a century, folk art flourished instead in Sweden, and was used to decorate farmsteads and homes with representations of biblical figures depicted in modern dress. Floral motifs dominated most of this provincial art.
Gustavus III, who reigned until 1792, favored both the Rococo and Neoclassical styles. A fusion of these two styles can be seen in the Opera House in Stockholm and the Royal Exchange.
Classicism & Empire -- Using classical precedents, architects were inspired by Italy in the second half of the 1700s; the 1773 School of the Academy of Arts, in Stockholm, is one such example, as is th Palace Theater in Gripsholm. After the loss of Finland in the Napoleonic Wars, Swedish architects concentrated on the military, erecting the Karlsborg Fortress and the Göta Canal.
Revivalism -- During industrialization in the 19th century, the Art Nouveau movement produced no building of note in Sweden. Rather, architects pursued whatever fantasy suited them: Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, for example, was inspired by Assyrian motifs for Stockholm's Synagogue, while Friedrich August Stüler looked to the Renaissance for his National Museum of Fine Arts in Sweden.
National Romantic Style -- As the 1800s ended and the 20th century burst onto the scene, the architects of the day turned from classicism. They preferred a more National Romantic and Jugenstil style, designing often in brick and wood. The crowning achievement of this period is the Stockholm City Hall designed by Ragnar Östberg and built between 1903 and 1923.
Modern & Postmodern -- Massive building projects were undertaken after World War II to accommodate a burgeoning population. Entire dormitory suburbs were constructed, often in a dull, bland style. The emphasis was on functionalism and modernity. Many architecturally sensitive Swedes cited the negative social consequences of these peas-in-a-pod communities enveloping Sweden's cities.
Postmodernism then emerged in the 1950s, encompassing a variety of different trends, even some used during the National Romantic period. Designers of 20th-century buildings used such terms as "minimalism" or "neofunctionalism."
Sculpture in this time was dominated by Carl Milles (1875-1955); a major work of his, the Gustavus Vasa wood carving, is in the Nordiska Museum in Stockholm.
Art in the 21st century has brought a return in some quarters to the narrative, especially as expressed in fantastic stories. A Swedish critic wrote that much of modern art in Stockholm "derails with both moral and ethical problems." Specifically cited was Jonas Dahlberg's surveillance cameras in toilets, which test the boundaries of privacy. The critic suggested, "Do we dare enter a toilet any more?"
One of the most famous manufacturers of household furniture and housewares in the world is Ikea, founded after World War II. Ikea's stores are sprawling warehouses filled with a cornucopia of inexpensive modern furniture and household accessories in clean lines. Their trademark style involves ample amounts of birch trim and birch veneer, sometimes accented with black, always presented in a "less is more" format that shows the virtues of simplicity and efficiency. From the core of two megastores set to the north and south of Stockholm, a series of other outlets have sprung up around the world. Vital to the organization's self-image is the presence of a cafeteria serving all-Swedish food. It provides cost-conscious refreshments and pick-me-ups that fortify shoppers (and those who merely crave frikadeller [meatballs]) at budget prices.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.