According to Norse mythology, thunder and lightning occur when the Æsir god Thor is angered, and so he rides out on his chariot, pulled by the goats Tanngnjóstr and Tanngrisnir, on the hunt for wickedness in the form of the Ettins. In his fight against this race of giants, he swings his hammer Mjöllnir and pulls on his belt of power, Megingjörð, which boosts his power. Psychologically, Thor is quite simple, in comparison with the brooding Odin. He was worshipped mainly by farmers and slaves.
In Mårten Eskil Winge’s interpretation, Thor is strong, blond, resolute and fearless. The painting was extremely well received when it was shown for the first time at Nationalmuseum in 1872, a time when Norse mythology and the gods were enjoying great popularity. Winge was one of many Scandinavian artists who painted the Æsir gods in the 1870s. And their paintings and sculptures still influence our ideas about Vikings and the Æsir gods to this day.
Winge’s original audience interpreted the painting as a general depiction of good battling evil. In modern times, Thor’s battle with the giants has been perceived as an expression of Nationalist or Fascist ideals. The blond-haired Thor has been seen as a defender of the Nordic ideal that is threatened by the dark-haired giants. The swastika on Thor’s belt of power has no doubt helped to make the painting popular among various right-wing extremist groups. For Winge and his contemporaries, the swastika was an ancient decorative symbol for the sun, appearing in architectural decoration and in various logos.