Focus on Patron

Following on from one of my previous posts (Focus on Scribes), this post focuses on the patron who employed those scribes: Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. Just as with Magnús í Vigur’s scribes, one of the main pages of the website provides an overview of his life and influence.

Magnús sits at the heart of the Icelandic Scribes research project as the man who actively collected and commissioned all of the manuscripts I’ve been studying. It was his personal literary and aesthetic tastes, and the choices he made 300 years ago, that have determined the material that I have to work with for my project today.

My research has indicated that as he amassed texts and manuscripts, Magnús í Vigur was not simply gathering together as much literature and other writings as he could get his hands on, but was, rather, interested in forming a collection that impressed when it came to both quantity – the sheer number of texts – and quality – the beauty and fine workmanship of the books. One of the ways Magnús ensured his books would impress was by commissioning title pages for them, some of which are pictured below.

Eight title pages

Eight of Magnús í Vigur’s title pages. Top row (l–r): Reykjavík, National and University Library of Iceland, Lbs 235 fol.; London, British Library, Add. 4869; London, British Library, Add. 4868; Reykjavík, National and University Library of Iceland, JS 43 4to. Bottom row (l–r): Reykjavík, National and University Library of Iceland, ÍBR 5 fol.; London, British Library, Add. 4857; London, British Library, Add. 4859; London, British Library, Add. 11,153 4to (British Library title page photos: SMW; National and University Library of Iceland title page photos: Handrit.is).

The title pages Magnús insisted his scribes add to many of his books moreover praised him as the wealthy local magnate that he considered himself to be, declaring his nobility alongside the value of the texts in the books. The formation of his library was therefore not merely a happy accident resulting from a bibliophile’s need to collect ever more literature. Magnús must indeed have loved books and literature – stories of powerful and influential men of the past, real and imagined alike. But in making his library, it seems he was also making a careful move towards self-consciously fashioning himself as a great patron – and, thus, as a powerful and influential member of his local community. Perhaps in his own eyes, he thought of himself as not unlike some of the heroes, kings, and courtly men he read of in his books.

For more about Magnús, his life, and his family, take a look at the Patron page of the website.

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