22 March 2019

A New Discovery in the Arnamagnæan Collection

AM 377 fol. was identified as being one of the volumes of indices prepared in the library of Hernando Colón.

The Arnamagnæan Collection is best known for its many Icelandic items, which constitute about three-quarters of the collection as a whole, and for its many important Danish, Norwegian and Swedish manuscripts, but the collection also contains about 100 manuscripts of continental provenance. At least 22 of these are Spanish – in the sense that they contain text in Spanish and/or Latin and were written in Spain or by Spaniards living in Italy.

Although the importance of a few of these has long been recognised, in general the Spanish manuscripts have not received the same level of attention as the Icelandic and other early Scandinavian manuscripts in the collection. This seems to be changing, however. In recent years the collection has been visited by a number of Spanish scholars, resulting in several important publications making use of manuscripts in the collection.

Portrait of Hernando Colón (1488–1539).

Recently, a major discovery was made, when one of the manuscripts in the collection, AM 377 fol., an enormous codex of nearly 2000 pages, was identified as being one of the volumes of indices prepared in the library of Hernando Colón (1488–1539), son of the famous navigator Christopher Columbus. Colón’s library was one of the largest in Europe, comprising some 15,000 volumes as well as an extensive collection of early prints. To keep track of it all, Colón developed an elaborate system of indices – essentially laying the foundation for modern librarianship. There were 16 volumes of indices in all; 14 of these are in the Biblioteca Colombina in Seville, where what remains of Colón’s library is kept. The other two were presumed missing — but now it seems that one of them wound up in the collection of Árni Magnússon.

Exactly how is unclear. In general, little is known of the provenance of these Spanish manuscripts, most of which seem to come from a fairly small circle of learned aristocrats in the late 16th and early 17th century. The Colón catalogue, for example, and several of our other Spanish manuscripts appear to have been part of the collection of Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares (1587-1645), and to have come to Denmark via Cornelius Lerche (1615-1681), who was the Danish envoy to the Spanish court for several periods in the 1650s and 60s. More research needs to be done before we can say anything with any certainty, however.

On the 26th to the 28th of March the Arnamagnæan Institute will be visited by Dr. Edward Wilson-Lee of Cambridge University, who is the author a recent biography of Hernando Colón, and his colleague Prof. José María Pérez Fernández of the University of Granada, with whom he is currently preparing a comprehensive study of Colón’s library and its holdings. There will be a short seminar on the Colón manuscript and several of the other Spanish manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection on the afternoon of the 27th at 15:00 in the Institute’s seminar room (27.2.23). Anyone interested in attending is welcome to do so.

For more information, please contact M. J. Driscoll.