Hand and Word

Photographs of Icelandic manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan Collection

Exhibition 27. oktober – 25. november 2018

The Arnamagnæan Collection derives its name from the Icelandic antiquarian Árni Magnússon (1663-1730) – Arnas Magnæus in Latinised form – professor of Danish Antiquities at the University of Copenhagen. The manuscript collection, bequeathed to the university upon Árni’s death, comprises around 3000 items, the earliest from the 12th century. The bulk of these are Icelandic, but the collection also contains Norwegian, Danish and Swedish manuscripts.

The manuscripts are invaluable sources on the history and culture of medieval Scandinavia, preserving sagas, myths, annals and chronicles, medieval laws, chivalric romances, saints’ lives and biblical history, to name just some of the texts. 

– There are the books, the likes of which will never and nowhere be found till Doomsday.

Thus speaks the book collector Arnas Arnæus, modelled on Árni Magnússon, in Halldór Laxness’s historical novel Iceland’s Bell, as he leaves his library for the last time during the fire of Copenhagen in 1728 and looks back as the flames begin to engulf the shelves. Fortunately, most of Árni’s collection survived the fire.

In 2009 the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

This exhibition highlights some of these remarkable Icelandic manuscripts.

Photography: Suzanne reitz
Text and translation into English: Anne Mette Hansen and Matthew Driscoll