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Olaus Magnus (1490 – 1557)

was a Swedish catholic priest, geographer and carthographer. His original name was Olof Mansson (meaning son of Mansson). Magnus is a latinized version of his patronymic second name, and not the literal personal epithet meaning „great“.
He was 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 Arch Bishop 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: 18 x 27 cm
Image: Uncoloured
Year: 1565

Map details

This very rare map is from the Italian translation of Olaus Magnus‘ „Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus“, published under the title „Historia delle genti et della natura delle cose settentrionali“ in 1565. It looks very similar to a map titled „Scandianae Insula Index“ written by Olaus‘ brother Johannes Magnus in his work „Historia de omnibus Gothorum Suenumque regibus“ (The History of all Gaelish and Swedish Kings) and posthumously published by Olaus in 1554. Between these two maps there are some 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 had a misspelling of Iceland („Isladia“) which was corrected in Olaus‘ map.

The map shows Scandinavia, the Baltic and the adjacent countries including the eastern coast of England („Anglia“) and Scotland („Scotia“). It is decorated by a compass rose, six sea monsters along the west coast of Norway and a huge one in the ocean in the far north and furthermore by lots of rowing boats and sailing vessels. Iceland is positioned to 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 smaller buildings which are probably settlements and three volcanoes are depicted.