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Johannes Magnus (1488 – 1544) & Olaus Magnus (1490 – 1557)

Johannes Magnus (a modified form of Ioannes Magnus, a Latin translation of his birth name Johan Mansson) and Olaus Magnus (a Latin translation of his birth name Olof Mansson) were brothers. Magnus is not the literal personal epithet meaning „great“ but the latinized version of his patronymic second name.

Johannes was a theologian, genealogist and historian. He was born in Linköping, attended a church school in Skara and studied theology under the later pope Hadrian VI at the University of Leuven, Belgium. In 1523 he was selected by Gustav I Vasa to become Archbishop of Uppsala. Later is was proven that Johannes was the last Catholic Archbishop in residence in Sweden.

His younger brother Olaus Magnus was a Swedish catholic priest, geographer and carthographer. He was also born in Linköping, attended school there and in 1510 he went abroad to prepare himself for a career in the Catholic Church in Sweden. Among other places he studied at the University of Rostock, Germany. After his return to Sweden, in 1518, he became deputy of Angelo Arcimboldi, the papal seller of indulgencies in Northern Germany and in Scandinavia. In that capacity he travelled around „Norrland“ and even reached Nidaros (Trondheim), the Lofoten and southern Finnmark. The impressions he collected on these voyages should prove as very valuable along his career.

When the Lutheran Reformation erupted in Sweden Olaus Magnus, together with his elder brother, Archbishop Johannes Magnus, remained loyal to the Catholic faith and they went into exile. As refugees they spent several years in Danzig. In 1537 they settled in Rome. Olaus acted as his brother‘s secretary and worked on his book „Carta Marina et Descriptio septentrionalium terrarum ac mirabilium rerum in eis contentarum, diligentissime elaborata Anno Domini 1539 Veneciis liberalitate Reverendissimi Domini Ieronimi Quirini“ (A Marine map and Description of the Northern Lands and of their Marvels, most carefully drawn up at Venice in the year 1539 through the generous assistance of the Most Honourable Lord and Patriarch Hieronymo Quirino). It included a map of Northern Europe which was rediscovered by Oscar Brenner in the Munich state library and is now referred to as „Carta Marina“. It consists of 9 parts, and is remarkably large: 170 cm wide and 125 cm tall.

After the death of his brother in 1544, Olaus was appointed Archbishop of Uppsala but as a consequence of the Swedish Reformation he was not able to enter his territory and stayed in Rome. Here, in 1555 Olaus published his most important book „Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus“ (A Description of the Northern Peoples) which was intended to become the commentary book to the „Carta Marina“ but in fact it dealt with the nature, the climate, agriculture, mining, wild animals and last but not least the life of people in Scandinavia. This text on dark winters, violent currents and beast of the sea amazed the rest of Europe. The book was translated into Italian (1565), German (1567), English (1658) and Dutch 1665), and not until 1909 into Swedish. The „Carta Marina“ was indispensable for generations of later cartographers.

The two scientific works he published during his long exile gave Olaus Magnus a pioneering position in the geographic research of Scandinavia. He never returned to Sweden and after his death, as a prominent churchman he was buried in St. Peter’s in Rome.

Size: 26 x 18 cm
Image: Uncoloured
Year: 1554

Map details

There are different versions of this very rare map. It first appeared in the work „Historia de omnibus gothorum sueonumque regibus“ written by Johannes Magnus and was posthumously published in 1554 by his younger brother Olaus Magnus, titled „Scandianae Insulae Index“. It consists of 782 pages in folio, not counting the voluminous index or appendix and is divided into 24 books which are richly illustrated by woodcuts. That work is the source of this map.

There are only few older maps of Scandinavia (by Martin Waldseemüller in 1513; Lorenz Fries 1522; Jacob Ziegler 1532; Giacomo Gastaldi 1548).

One year later Olaus Magnus published the work again but he replaced the title both of the work and of the map: The new title of the book became „Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus“ and the new title of the map „Regnorum Aquilonarum description, huius operis subiectum“. In later editions other elements changed, eg in the map of 1565 (No. 72), there is no title of the map at all.

Between these two numbered maps there are some other differences. On the one hand, Johannes‘ map was woodcut, Olaus‘ map used the copperplate technique which allowed a finer work. On the other hand, Johannes‘ map of 1554, as can be seen on this map, had a misspelling of Iceland („Isladia“) which was corrected in Olaus‘ maps from 1555 on.

The map shows Scandinavia, the Baltic region and the adjacent countries including the eastern coast of England („Anglia“) and Scotland („Scotia“). It is decorated by a compass rose, six sea monsters, five along the west coast of Norway and a huge one (Lacus Albus) near “Finmarchia“, and furthermore by lots of rowing boats and sailing vessels. Iceland is positioned too close to Norway and with wrong orientation (too much SW/NE, as opposed to W/E).

About Iceland itself there is not much information. Only two larger buildings which could be the bishoprics Skalholt and Holar, two larger buildings and one smaller which mark probably settlements and four volcanoes are depicted.


I have bought this map from Carta Historica, based in Tervuren/Belgium and I have received such an informative „Certificate of Authenticity I have never seen from any antiquarian before: a detailed description of the map and the life of their authors/publishers – in a way similar to this catalog.
With regard to this map of Scandinavia, the owner Stanislas De Peuter writes: „Magnus map is considered to be the oldest more or less acceptable form of the large peninsula. Its design is even better than Ortelius‘ map „Septentrionalium Regionem descript.“ That map is also in the Schulte Collection (No. 56).