The "Lady of the Mountain" (Fjallkona) is the female incarnation (national personification) of Iceland. While she symbolises what Icelanders considered to be genuine and purely Icelandic, in her purity she reflects a deep-seated, but unattainable, wish of Icelanders to be a totally independent nation. Fjallkonan is thus not only a national symbol, she also represents the national vision, the nation's ultimate dream.
The personification of a nation as a woman was widespread in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. The earliest image of Iceland personified as a woman seems to appear first in association with the poem Ofsjónir við jarðarför Lovísu drottningar 1752 ('Visions at the funeral of Queen Louise, 1752') by Eggert Ólafsson (1752), but this image does not survive.
The word fjallkona is attested for the first time in the poem Eldgamla Ísafold by Bjarni Thorarensen from the first decade of the nineteenth century. From that moment onwards she became a well-known symbol in Icelandic poetry.
The oldest surviving image of "the lady of the mountains" was published in the last volume of an English translation of Icelandic folk-tales by Eiríkur Magnússon and G. E. J. Powell, Icelandic Legends, Collected by Jón Arnason (1864–66). It is the work of the German painter Johann Baptist Zwecker, who drew it to specifications provided by Eiríkur. Eiríkur described the picture in a letter to Jón Sigurðsson (11 April 1866) thus:
Also very popular is the image designed by Benedikt Sveinbjarnarson Gröndal on a memorial card of the National holiday in 1874. Since the establishment of the Icelandic republic in 1944 it has been traditional for a woman in traditional dress to read the poem on the national holiday (17 June).
The idea of the fjallkonan as motherland was a counterweight to the idea of the Danish King as 'father' in nineteenth-century Iceland under Danish rule, and after independence in 1944 became one of the images through which feminism and the idea of powerful women, such as Iceland's first female president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, were made to seem a natural part of Icelandic culture.
The image of the fjallkonan has also been prominent among Vestur Íslendingar in Canada. A woman dressed as the Lady of the Mountain first appeared at the Iceland Days in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1924. Here too, the fjallkona has been deployed to promote feminism.
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