Scandinavia in the Special Collections

This month, we gather together a number of different items which share a northern theme: twentieth-century cartoons, seventeenth-century astronomy, nineteenth-century literature, sixteenth-century history, eighteenth-century exploration, and a seventeenth-century Bible.

Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus [Description of the Northern people], Olaus Magnus (1550) ∑.2.14

Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) was a Swedish writer and Archbishop of Uppsala, and this book was his magnus opus. With over 800 pages of Latin text – and littered with pleasing woodcut prints – Magnus systematically makes an effort to describe the people and the land in full. He writes on religion, law, government, lifestyle, food, wildlife, mythology and more.

The woodcut prints cover a similar range of subjects. The examples shown below include a rendering of a runic alphabet, depictions of a giant, a bear dancing with a woman, a battle between an army of cranes and an army of dwarfs, a King, and Norwegian seamonsters.

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Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

In St John’s College Library’s Special Collections there are four copies of Ortelius’s world atlases. These were the first attempts at mapping the known world in its entirety which demonstrate a balance between striving for accurate cartography and presenting the wondrous elements of the distant world.

Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)

From Antwerp, Brussels, Ortelius was part of the world-renowned Dutch-Flemish school of cartographers. Over his lifetime he worked as an engraver, geographer, cartographer and book trader but he is most well known as the creator of the first world atlas – the first edition of which was published in 1570. Interestingly, Ortelius may also be the first person in history to have formally presented the basic theory of continental drift in his discussion of the ‘matching’ coastlines of Africa, Europe, and South America. It is fitting that his interests covered not only the revolutions in the scientific geography of which he was a primary innovator but also historical geography: his early works include detailed maps of ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire.

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 Abraham Ortelius, 1579, Wikimedia Commons

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