Brother to the more celebrated Gustav Vigeland, whose eccentric sculptures occupy a prominent park in central Oslo, Emanuel Vigeland (1875-1948) will be remembered through his own strange and enchanting artistic work.
Dubbed Oslo’s “best-kept secret” by locals, the Emanuel Vigeland Museum serves double duty as a mausoleum designed and decorated by Vigeland himself. The building is entered by stooping through a heavy, low iron door. Inside, a large, darkened barrel-vaulted room is completely covered with paintings that show human life from conception to death in explicitly erotic scenes. The 800-square-meter fresco took Vigeland 20 years to finish.
Entering the mausoleum is a solemn, even haunting, experience. Even the smallest footstep echoes across the barrel-vaulted ceiling for up to 14 seconds. A flashlight is needed to reveal the room’s dark-painted walls.
Vigeland began construction on the building in 1926 with the intention of later filling it with his paintings and sculptures. At this point, only one wall and the ceiling of the barrel-vaulted room were to be covered by paintings; the rest would be left to showcase other works.
When Vigeland decided that the museum would also serve as his mausoleum, he had the windows sealed with bricks, lending the entire building an eerie atmosphere. He completed the fresco, finding inspiration in the burial chambers of Antiquity and drawing especially from the dramatic stories of Creation and the Original Sin from Christianity. Named Vita, or “Life,” the fresco focuses on “man’s sexual instinct, conveyed through multitudes of naked bodies, women, and men in impetuous intimacy,” according to the museum’s official website.
After Vigeland’s death, his ashes were put to rest in an urn that sits above the main entrance. Taken over as a private foundation, the museum was opened to the public in 1959, more than a decade after Vigeland’s death.
Today, the museum is only open to the public for a few short hours each week, but it plays host to several concerts (sometimes involving didgeridoos) throughout the year.
The Atlas Obscura Podcast is a short, daily celebration of all the world’s strange and wondrous places. Check out this episode about the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum.
Know Before You Go
T-bane no. 1 Frognerseteren to Slemdal station or bus no. 46 to Grimelundsveien. Parking is available outside of the museum.