Arni Magnusson 350 years

Photo exhibition at the Faculty of Humanities' library of manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan collection

The Icelandic philologist and historian Arni Magnusson (1663-1730) was a professor of Danish Antiquities at the University of Copenhagen. Arni Magnusson bequeathed his collection of manuscripts, printed books and his fortune to the university upon his death in 1730. The manuscript collection was named after its founder, whose Latinised name was Arnas Magnæus: the Arnamagnaean collection.

The manuscript collection, which today consists of around 3000 both medieval and post-medieval items. The bulk of manuscripts in the Arnamagaean collection is Icelandic, but there are also many important Norwegian (ca. 280), Danish (ca. 250) and Swedish (ca. 30) manuscripts, in addition to approximately one hundred of continental orgin. Besides the manuscripts there is also a wide collection of Nordic diplomas (juridical documents) and apographs (copies of diplomas), of which around 3000 are from Denmark.

The manuscript collection is an invaluable gateway to the medieval languages, literature and history. The Icelandic sagas and skaldic poems, the historical chronicles in Latin or Danish, the translations of Old French stories, Denmark's old regional laws, the medieval Danish prayer books and the collections of legends of holy men and women: these are just a few of the types of texts that are kept in the manuscripts.

The Arnamagnaean collection has been split between Denmark and Iceland since 1971. The Danish parliament passed legislation in 1965 that the manuscripts in the collection that could be defined as Icelandic cultural patrimony be handed over to the University of Iceland. This agreement also comprised the manuscripts at The Royal Library in Copenhagen. The transfer of just over half of the collection, that is 1666 Icelandic manuscripts from the Arnamagaean collection and 141 manuscripts from The Royal Library, took place between the years 1973 and 1997. The Danish half is kept in a specially built vault at the Arnamagnaean Institute at the Department of Scandinavian Studies in Copenhagen, while the Icelandic half is kept at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík.

To celebrate the 350th anniversary of Arne Magnusson's birth, the Department of Scandinavian Studies, in agreement with Faculty of Humanities' library, arranged a photo exhibition of manuscripts in the Arnamagnaean collection in Copenhagen. The exhibition was showing from the 4th of October to the 1st of December 2013.

Various manuscripts in various bindings

AM 225 fol. from the first half of the 15th century contains Bible history from the Old Testament in Old Norwegian and more. The manuscript, written in Iceland, is bound in a medieval binding consisting of two thick wooden boards kept together with straps at the spine. AM 196 fol. contains the history of Sweden from the distant past until the Reformation told by the Swedish humanist Olof Pettersson (1493-1552). The manuscript is bound in an embossed leather binding from 1577. AM 18 4to contains German and Danish law texts that covered Lübeck and Southern Jutland. The manuscript consists of parts from the last quarter of the 16th century and from the first quarter of the 17th century and is bound in a finely decorated leather binding with metal fittings and clasps. AM 161 4to, the open manuscript shown here, was written between 1561 and 1565 and contains a copy of the Icelandic medieval law code, Jónsbók. The manuscript is illuminated, i.e. decorated with colours and ornaments. The initial H is an example of an illumination with a coloured plant motif.

Codex Runicus, the runic manuscript

AM 28 8vo from ca. 1300 is written entirely in runes, long after the Latin alphabet had been introduced in the North along with Christianity between the years 900 and 1000. The manuscript contains mainly one of the oldest version of the Scanian Law. This collection of legal rules that covered Scania, Halland and Blekinge was drawn up in the beginning of the 1200s and was used until the middle of the 1600s. The caption shows a part of chapter 133. The red t-rune signals the beginning of a new chapter: “Takær man hiona annærs manx ofnæ løbstihum” (If a man takes another man's fugitive slave ...).

AM 342 fol.

The Icelandic law book, Jónsbók, was passed at the Althing in 1281 and was valid until 1662. Copies of Jónsbók are available in many manuscripts, of which AM 342 fol. in the Arnamagnaean collection at the University of Copenhagen is but one. This beautiful manuscript was written in 1577 by an able scribe, the priest Grímur Skúlason (d. 1582). This same scribe also wrote other copies of Jónsbók, for example AM 161 4to. The manuscript is bound in a fine leather binding and belonged to the Danish seneschal Christoffer Valkendorf (1525-1601). The decorated and gilded initial 'I' signals the beginning of a chapter on the payment of tax.

Illustrated manuscripts

The story of the first king of Israel, Saul, can be found in the first book of Samuel in the Old Testament. The Icelandic manuscript AM 226 fol. from the middle of the 1300s contains, among other texts, a translation to Old Norwegian of part of the Bible and its text is illustrated with historiated initials at the beginning of many chapters. The yellow S on a red background depicts Samuel annointing Saul king. Handwritten books have different formats: AM 226 fol. is a manuscript in a big format, a.k.a. folio, while AM 4 4to (from around 1300) and AM 445 12mo (from the last quarter of the 15th century) have a smaller format, quarto and duodecimo respectively. Both of these contain texts from the Jutlandic Law.

Book and diploma - same scribe 

The Arnamagnaean medicinal book, AM 187 8vo, from the first quarter of the 1400s, shows a medieval tradition of magical or superstitious medicinal and domestic remedies. The author presents the aim of the book in the preface with the following words: “I believe that many who are unqualified claim to be doctors. For this reason I have sought after real medical knowledge and written about it.” The person who wrote the book has also been in charge of several diplomas for Saint Clara's monastery in Roskilde. The diploma AM Dipl. Dan. Fasc. LX 22, was issued June 24th 1408 by the noblewoman Anna Pedersdatter. Anna leaves two estates to her daughter Margrethe, nun in the Clara monastery, for life. To certify the document's authenticity, the diploma is sealed with Anna's seal made of yellow wax with the Jernskæg family's coat of arms: a scallop shell, and the son Jakob Lunge's seal made of green wax with the Lunge family's coat of arms: three French lillies and two aurochs horns on the helmet.

The Arnamagnaean Institute at the Department of Scandinavian Studies houses the manuscript collection founded by the Icelandic philologist and historian Árni Magnússon (1663-1730). The manuscripts are kept in individual boxes in a specially built vault along with photographs of the old bindings. The blue labels indicate the manuscripts' archive number in the collection.