New on the website: An index of texts


Detail of a larger visualization showing the texts Magnús Jónsson had access to in his library; each text is linked to the manuscript(s) in which it is copied. Created by SMW.

Creating an index of the hundreds of different texts preserved in the various manuscripts in Magnús Jónsson í Vigur’s library has been an ongoing process throughout the project. Recently, in addition to preparing the list for publication here on the project website (more on this below), I have been experimenting with visualization tools to see how the texts and manuscripts can be mapped and connected. The above image comes from one such experiment, which I made using Palladio. My hope is to analyse the data further and to draw up my findings for publication, along with full visualizations, once I have a complete list to work with.

While the index is still not complete, close to 400 texts have now been added to a new page on the website (Texts, also added to the website’s main navigation menu). All sagas and major prose texts have been added; much of remains to be added now are individual poems and hymns from a small handful of manuscripts containing poetry, as well as individual very short prose texts (like exempla) found in larger collections of literature.

The index cross-references an alphabetical list of texts against the manuscript(s) they are copied into, and where possible, also links directly to the manuscript catalogue pages (shown in the screenshot below). More links will be added as further manuscript descriptions are completed and added to the website.


Screenshot from the index of texts and the manuscripts that contain them, with direct links to catalogue entries in red.

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:

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.

Focus on Scribes

London, British Library Add. 4868

London, British Library Add. 4868, detail of an opening initial of a text copied by Magnús Þórólfsson (f.139v). Photo: SMW.

Main scribes

One of the main aims of this project has been to identify, study, and gain a greater understanding of the scribes who copied manuscripts for Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. That’s why a whole section of the website is dedicated to what I call his “main scribes” – four men who appear to have worked most consistently for Magnús í Vigur over a period of time spanning nearly 50 years. Their work was mostly successive, though there was also some overlap between them, and other indications of collaborative work. Such an example can be seen in the image below, where Jón Þórðarson’s contribution (in lighter ink) ends on the verso side of a leaf in the manuscript Add. 11,153 and Magnús Ketilsson’s contribution starts (in darker ink) on the bottom of the same leaf and continues to the end of the manuscript.

London, British Library Add. 11,153

London, British Library Add. 11,153, scribal collaboration between Jón Þórðarson and Magnús Ketilsson (ff.260v–261r). Photo: SMW.

The individual webpages on the scribes Þórður Jónsson, Magnús Þórólfsson, Jón Þórðarson, and Magnús Ketilsson provide basic overviews about their lives and their contributions to their patron Magnús í Vigur’s library. The information there has been drawn mainly from what could be gleaned from the manuscripts themselves and the notes these men left in them. As my research becomes finalised over the next few months, these scribe pages will continue to be updated, just as the individual manuscript pages are being added and updated as they are completed.

More scribes

Beyond the four main scribes, however, we know that others also copied texts for Magnús í Vigur (and that he also copied several manuscripts himself), but the contributions of these other scribes appear somewhat less regularly, or, rather, they are less well documented.

In the introduction to his 1955 facsimile edition of the miscellany AM 148 8vo (Kvæðabók úr Vigur), scholar Jón Helgason argued for up to 12 different hands at work in that single manuscript, although some may be, rather, be examples of different handwriting from individual scribes – what are called Hands 2 and 4, for example, are probably both those of Magnús Jónsson himself, while Hands 3, 7, and 10 resemble each other in some ways, though they have not been associated with any known scribe. The two scribes behind Hands 5 and 11 likewise remain anonymous.

Two of the four main scribes noted above are also among Jón Helgason’s list of 12 hands – Þórður Jónsson (Hand 8) and Magnús Ketilsson (Hand 12) – while other identifiable scribes from the list include the following three men:

1. Hannes Gunnlaugsson (1640–1686) of Reykjarfjörður (Hand 1) contributes a copy of the famous 17th-century Icelandic poet Hallgrímur Pétursson’s polemic poem “Aldarháttur” (Signs of the times) to Magnús’s Kvæðabók. Hannes’ distinctive and careful work – mainly decorative elements including title pages – is also found in the large and impressive saga manuscripts Lbs 235 fol. (the medieval contemporary histories of Sturlunga saga), JS 27 fol. (romance sagas), and AM 426 fol. (sagas of Icelanders), pictured below.


Reykjavík, Árni Magnússon Institute, AM 426 fol., title page (f.1r). Photo: F. Richter.

2. Magnús í Vigur’s (first) father-in-law Jón Jónsson (d. 1680) of Holt (Hand 9) copied, for Magnús’s Kvæðabók, the beginning of Jón Ólafsson Indíafari‘s mid-17th-century Icelandic translation of Claus Christoffersen Lyschander’s verse Greenland Chronicle (Den grønlandske chronica), a work that was first printed in Denmark in 1608. In addition to this, Jón Jónsson is also known to have corresponded with Magnús í Vigur about exchanging books.

3. Another scribe working for Magnús í Vigur was Jón Björnsson, who was active at least during the winter of 1689–90. He signed his work in the manuscript Add. 4857 on 25 January 1690, as pictured below. His hand does not seem to match any of the unidentified hands listed in the Kvæðabók edition, but more work remains to determine the extent of his contribution to Magnús’s library.

London, British Library Add. 4857

London, British Library Add. 4857, detail of Jón Björnsson’s colophon (f.143v). Photo: SMW.

A Copy of Sníðúlfs ævintýri: Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Collection AM 578 i 4to

Last month I wrote a short introduction to Rask 33, one of the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen, which may have had a connection to Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. Here I’ll highlight another manuscript in the same collection, AM 578 i 4to, part of which, like Rask 33, was copied by one of the main scribes who worked for Magnús Jónsson í Vigur. Again, the connection to Magnús as a potential patron or owner of the manuscript is as yet unclear, but it has been interesting investigating the manuscript as another example of the handiwork of one of Magnús’s many copyists. The scribe in question this time is Magnús Ketilsson, the last to work for Magnús í Vigur, and the text in question is a short tale known as Sníðúlfs ævintýri.

Sníðúlfs ævintýri is an exemplum (plural: exempla), that is to say, a short tale commonly used in preaching. Many tales of this kind survive from throughout the European Middle Ages, in Latin and vernacular languages, including Old Norse. Although the exemplum contained in AM 578 i 4to was copied at the end of the seventeenth century (probably around 1696–1700) in Lutheran Iceland by a scribe who went on to be a Lutheran minister, the text’s origins go back to the Catholic Middle Ages and the story of the life of St Gangulphus.

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, AM 578 i 4to

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, AM 578 i 4to, the end of Sníðúlfs ævintýri copied by Magnús Ketilsson (ff.2v–3r). Photo: SMW.

As interesting as it would be to be able to connect this particular copy of the story to Magnús Jónsson’s library, we can actually already be certain that he had other copies of the same story in different manuscripts: two copies of slightly different lengths are preserved in the manuscript Add. 11,153 4to, and a third copy is in Add. 4859.

I recently wrote about this manuscript in more detail for the Arnamagnæan Institute’s series Manuscript of the Month (Månedens Håndskrift) for March 2018 and you can read about it on their website in either English ( or Danish (

“A Scribe’s Favourite Exemplum?”

“En skrivers yndlingshistorie?”

A Copy of Mágus saga jarls: Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Collection MS Rask 33

One of the manuscripts in the Arnamagnæan Collection in Copenhagen that may be connected to Magnús Jónsson í Vigur is Rask 33, the majority of which was copied by Magnús í Vigur’s scribe Þórður Jónsson, in 1680. Þórður’s copy of the romance Mágus saga jarls is decorated in a similar manner to many of the other sagas copied for Magnús í Vigur, and it seems very likely that this saga was also intended for him.

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, Rask 33

Copenhagen, Arnamagnæan Institute, Rask 33, the end of part 1 and beginning of part 2 of Mágus saga jarls (ff.38v–39r). Photo: SMW.

This manuscript was not part of Árni Magnússon’s original collection, but was added to the collection in the nineteenth century after the death of the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask (1787–1832), along with over 100 other Icelandic manuscripts that he had owned. How the manuscript eventually made its way from the Westfjords of Iceland where Þórður copied it to become part of Rask’s collection is unknown, although the name of a previous owner, Ólafur Ólafsson, was written several times along with two place names and dates – Jódísarstaðir and Ánastaðir – and three dates – 1794, 1798, and 1811.

I wrote about this manuscript for the Arnamagnæan Institute’s Manuscript of the Month (Månedens Håndskrift) series in August 2017; you can read more about it on their website, in English ( or Danish (

“Medieval Romance in Early Modern Iceland”

“En middelalderlig riddersaga i det tidligt moderne Island”


It’s very exciting to be able to launch this online resource in association with my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. The research project, with the acronym ICELANDIC SCRIBES, has post-medieval mansucripts and scribes at its heart. While the project is now very close to its formal end, the work is far from complete. The website is also launching as a work-in-progress, and it will take a while to add all of the data I have been collecting and working with over the course of the project. As pages are updated and new pages about manuscripts and scribes are added, this will be announced with a blog post. These will be accessible via the main landing page and on the sidebar under “News Archive”. Other news – e.g. conference papers and publications relating to or resulting from the project – will also appear here. Feedback is always welcome!

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 1220 fol.

Copenhagen, Royal Library NKS 1220 fol., detail of the start of chapter 4, Njáls saga (f.3v). Photo: SMW.

Funded by the European Commission, the ICELANDIC SCRIBES project is a 2-year investigation of a collection of 17th-century hand-written books commissioned by one man and written out by a small but significant network of scribes. The project considers how these manuscript books are linked with both the rural Icelandic community in which they were produced and the wider networks of literacy and reading culture in early modern Scandinavia. A more detailed project abstract can be found on the About page.

This website is meant to be a place for sharing the results of the project and the resources that are coming out of it, including catalogue descriptions of the various manuscripts in the collection under investigation. Some of the catalogue descriptions will have been created from scratch during the project; others have been built upon and/or modified from existing XML-based catalogue descriptions made available for academic purposes, and this will be noted in each case.

All photos included on this website were, unless otherwise noted, taken by project leader Sheryl McDonald Werronen (SMW) for research purposes and with the permission of the libraries that hold the original manuscripts.

Overall, the information shared on this website is done so under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

And finally, if you find the material here useful and would like to build on it or refer to it in your research or teaching, please do also let me know!