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.