Friedrich Wilhelm Engelhard

The Edda Frieze

and other works

See Also The Edda Frieze: A Panoramic View


Sculpter Wilhelm Engelhard executed many groups, single figures and genre pieces. Among his creations are the limestone statues of Odin, Thor, and the Valkyries, a marble statue of Baldur, as well as the Edda frieze, his chief work. Most of which no longer survive.

1888 Odin Enthroned
This limestone group statue, established in 1902, stands behind the Museum of Lower Saxony in Hanover, Germany. Heavily damaged in World War II, the limestone group was removed in 1943, and put back up in 1987 after extensive restoration.

Design Sketch for Odin Statue (above)

Design Sketch for Thor statue
Wilhelm Engelhard or Engelhardt was born September 9, 1813 in Grünhagen in Lüneburg.  He went to school in Paris in 1830. Engelhard initially trained to become an ivory carver, before studying in 1837 at the Higher Vocational School in Hanover, supported by the Hanoverian royal family in London and Paris. In 1839, he was a student of Bertel Thorvaldsen in Copenhagen, and in 1841 of Ludwig Schwanthaler in Münich.

The catalog of an art exhibition there in 1843 attributes three  pieces to him, among them, an urn, decorated with figures of the Norns. In 1851 he had begun on his masterwork, the Edda Frieze, producing contour drawings for the Great Exhibition in London that year, and thereby acquiring great recognition. The official catalog of the Exhibition states that he displayed "a relief in plaster, illustrative of northern mythology" along with a "series of designs" and "a model of the Lorley" (Lorelei).  In 1855 he traveled to Rome where he executed several life-size marble statues including his Lorelei.

In 1857, at the request of King George V of Hanover,  Engelhard moved to Hanover where he executed his Edda frieze in plaster in the entry hall of the Marienburg Palace (Schlosse Marienburg).

Schlosse Marienburg

 In 1866, the entire frieze was taken down under the direction of architect Opler, as King George wanted the same run by the artist done in marble in the newly-constructed Welfenschloss (Guelph palace), built from 1857 to 1866 as a summer residence for the royal family. However, that same year, the annexation of the kingdom by Prussia and the dethronement of the king, destroyed his plans, and the castle stood empty for over a decade. In 1879, after extensive renovation work, the building came to house the Royal Institute of Technology, now the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover.  The plaster models were then moved to the passage-hall (Durchgangshalle) of the technical university.   

The Welfenschloss

The Edda Frieze consisted of 18 presentations, depicting general scenes from Norse mythology. It was 112 ft. long and 3 ft. high. Contemporary literature described it as "a colossal work dealing with the main features of the saga, rich in sculptural effects."    The frieze was captured in a series of 18 photographs by Ernst Alpers, and published in a book by Wilhelm Engelhard himself in 1867, entitled: Nordisches Heldenleben. Cyclus Plastischer Darstellungen Nach Der Edda (reprinted 1872)

Title Page: The Goddess Saga

Engelhard subsequently led work on a similar frieze using motifs from Norse mythology for the Von Tiele-Winckler mansion in Berlin
. At the same time, he executed statues of Odin, Thor, the Valkyries and the Jötuns in limestone.

Von Tiele-Winckler Mansion

Some of the following illustrations by F.W. Heine, which first appeared in Unsre Vorzeit (1882), are identified as based on the frieze by Prof. Engelhard (pp. xv-xvi).  The introduction to Unsre Vorzeit states that because Prof. Engelhard did not have sufficent leisure time to make drawings for the book himself, that the work was undertaken by a younger illustrator F. W. Heine, who worked "partially from the frieze, and partially from sketches, under the direction of the Master." The same work mentions that Heine contributed a number of original drawings as well. A description of the frieze panels (abridged in translation here) from 1891 allows us to distinquish which images were based on the Edda frieze:

At the beginning of the frieze, on the left,  Germanic warriors called by horn blasts storm into battle. Ahead of them,  a Valkyrie rides, leading the warriors to the battlefield. Her steed barely touches the ground. A helmet covers her head. Armed with shield, spear, sword or mace and partly clothed with skins, the champions follow.
The Valkyrie Hild leads warriors into battle.
Another battle-maiden, already settled on the field of battle, tends to the wounded.

Another ascends to Valhalla, flying through the air, carrying a fallen hero on a shield up to Odin's hall. The messenger of the gods, Hermod, Odin's nimble son, and Bragi, the god of song and poetry, a bearded old man in a long robe, harp in hand, welcome the new einherjes. An oak wreath adorns Bragi; helmets adorn Hermod and the einherjes.

Heimdall and Bragi welcome a warrior into Valhalla
On the slightly protruding part of the frieze that occupies the center of the house, Bragi (on the left) introduces a hero, who still wears his shield along with a quiver and arrows, into Valhalla, where Odin sits on his throne, flanked by his two wolves, beckoning the newcomer. Helmet, armor and scepter grace the king of the gods. Valkyries are on both sides, one of which holds a drinking horn. On Odin's right, we see Idun, wife of Bragi, holding the apples of immortality in a tray, and beside her Frigg, wife of Odin. Odin himself is a strong male figure, a draped garment wraps his knees. Idun and Frigg are figures of perfect feminine beauty. Long robes fall down to both feet. A wreath adorns Frigg's head, flowers and foliage adorn Idun's head, draped with a veil-like cloth in back.

Odin, through Bragi, welcomes a hero into Valhalla

Ragnarök is depicted on the right, long side of the frieze. Judgement day has arrived according to the rooster who crows for the Aesir. Heimdall, the guardian of the sky, blows his far-sounding horn to summon the gods and einherjes to the decisive battle. The heroes rush forward in droves.

Heimdall's horn calls the warriors to battle


Before them, the gods confront their enemies. High on his steed, Odin fights the terrible Fenris wolf, his mighty spear aimed for the monster's throat. Beside him, the thunder god Thor, who has buckled his belt of strength and tightened his iron gloves, swings his crushing hammer against the horrific Midgard serpent. Both monsters have broken their shackles and barriers. Full of fury and destruction, they have turned against the powerful deities. Behind them, the Rime Giants rush, swinging long spears and terrible clubs or hurling great pieces of rock. They have just landed in the ship Naglfar.

The giants (arriving in Naglfar) begin the battle against the inhabitants of Asgard.

A drawing from 1859 shows the same scene (far right) in context:

(poor quality image of entire panel)

Detail from center of panel above
The caption on the back reads: "Odin und Thor kämpfen gegen Fenriswolf, die Midgardschlange und die Riesen" [Odin and Thor fight against the Fenris wolf, the Midgard serpent and the giants"]. This panel at auction was described as follows:
"In the left third of the picture rides Odin, the supreme god, with a lance in his hands directed against Fenris; the monster leaps at him with mouth wide-open. At Odin's side, Thor, the god of thunder, holds the hammer in his raised right hand against the Midgard Serpent. Im mittleren Bilddrittel befindet sich eine Gruppe von vier Riesen, die mit Lanzen, Knüppeln und Baumstämmen gegen die Götter ziehen, und im rechten Bilddrittel landen vier weitere Riesen, die mit Felsblöcken bewaffnet sind, auf einem Boot an. In the middle third of the picture there is a group of four giants who move toward the gods, with spears, sticks and tree trunks,  and in the right third four more giants, armed with rocks, land in the ship Naglfar."
Thus far, the presentation is replicated in the Von Tiele-Winckler's home.  In the larger Edda Frieze in Hanover, the bright god Freyr is seen behind Odin and Thor, approaching the battle on his boar. In his right hand, he swings a club; in the left, he holds the sun-shield in front. A helmet with a hair-bush covers his head. Except for sandals on his feet, the youthful form of the god is naked.

After the frost-giants, the exodus of the sons of fire through the cracked heavens follows. The rainbow bridge breaks as they ride together on it. All are on horseback, Surtur rides ahead, his head surrounded by fire and a flaming sword in his right hand, while the left holds a shield. His troops swing swords and firebrands. Nothing can withstand the consuming power of fire.

Surt with his flaming sword
Valkyries, gods and einherjes can now be seen stretched out on the Ida-plain in dense clusters; Dwarves, too, cowering with fear at the quaking of the earth and collapsing of their caves.

Surt Hurls Fire to Earth

The world tree has fallen.
All beings have perished.
 Only the three Norns, the Fates, survive, because they have imposed that fate upon themselves. These three giant maidens form the conclusion of the entire frieze.

Urd, Verdandi and Skuld

Urd, the Norn of the past, sits to the far left. 
A clasp holds her cloak together at the neck , while a long robe encloses her form. An oak wreath surrounds her head. In her right hand, she holds a rune tablet and a small staff to record what happened; with her​​left hand she pushes a torch into the ground to extinquish it, as time was extinquished earlier. The second, Verdandi or present, has her veil and upper garments exposed. Only a light covering, whose seam is embellished with leaves, covers the lower part of the body. Roses decorate their youthful head, she looks fresh and free in life; her hair falls in long curls down her back. In her right hand, she holds rose branches, thorns in her left hand. On the far right sits the third Norn, Skuld or future. A broad, draped robe covers her almost completely. Only the front of her veil is lifted slightly. She sits there dreaming, with one hand laid on the urn in her lap,  in which lots are hidden. The lives of the old heathen gods and heroes are past and gone. Christianity creates a new time and world. Therefore, at the end of the entire frieze, the cross appears as a symbol of salvation and redemption.

The following illustrations by F. W. Heine are also attributed as being "after Prof. Engelhard," and belonging to the Edda Frieze. They are, in fact, unique scenes from the reproduction of the frieze at the Von Tiele-Winckler mansion in Berlin.


From the contour drawings of 1850, it is clear that the beginning of the original frieze is somewhat different than that reproduced in the Von Tiele-Winckler mansion in Berlin. In the larger frieze, the heroes are first called to battle, while in the Von Tiele-Winckler version, an introductory scene shows a gathering of warriors grouped on either side of an ancient bard. Under an oak tree, the garlanded and bearded singer, dressed in a draped garment, sits on a passage grave. With a harp, he accompanies his singing, in which he praises the former heroes. People gather around listening reverently.

In the next picture, we find some of these heroes as einherjes in Valhalla gathered for a joyful feast. Valkyries offer them mead.
Drinking feast
  The second main part, the Ragnarök, opens with the departure of the einherjes from Valhalla to the final battle at the calling of Heimdall's horn.

For the sake of symmetry in the more confined space, Engelhard has
the horn-blowing warriors, headed to the battlefield, open the first main part on the left. The second main part on the right depicts the cock of the Aesir and Heimdall, who with his horn also calls the einherjes for the last battle. The termination on the left side ends with the arrival of the fallen heroes in Valhalla. On the right side, the run ends with the arrival of the frost-giants to the final battle.

Below the frieze, in a kind of niche, Odin occurs again standing.
Thoughtfully, he has placed his left hand on his full beard, while the right is raised. He is adorned with helmet and armor, but the long cloak and the scepter, which characterize the enthroned God above, are missing, and a sword is placed in his belt. His wolves do not lie at his feet, but his two ravens sit on his shoulders. To the right, Thor is found in the same size as Odin. He is also shown standing. He holds the dreaded hammer over his left shoulder.
  Finally, these images by F. W. Heine, attributed as being "after Prof. Engelhard" and as belonging to the Edda frieze, most likely erroneously,  exhibit stylistic similarities with the Edda Frieze, and may have been inspired by it, directly or indirectly.  
Giants and Dwarves

 Njord and Skadi on the way to Noatun

Aegir and Ran

Loki and Sigyn


Loki's and Heimdall's death

This original F.W. Heine illustration appears to have been inspired by the frieze,
 but clearly is not a part of it, based on a comparison with the images above.

See Also The Edda Frieze: A Panoramic View

Die Deutsche Götterlehre und ihre Verwertung in Kunst und Dichtung,
(1891) Volume 1 by Paul Herrmanowski.

Photographs from Nordisches Heldenleben. Cyclus Plastischer Darstellungen Nach Der Edda  (1867) at the J. Paul Getty Museum.