Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Grove Art Online. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Subscriber: null; date: 30 October 2020


  • Elizabeth Ashman Rowe

Illuminated 14th-century deluxe Icelandic manuscript (420×290 mm, 202 fols; Reykjavík, Árni Magnússon Institute, GKS 1005 fol.) of King Sverrir’s Saga. It was compiled by the priests Jón Þórðarson and Magnús Þórhallsson for Jón Hákonarson (1350–before 1416), a wealthy landowner in northern Iceland who collected sagas of the kings of Norway. A note on folio 4r dates Jón Þórðarson’s contribution to 1387, and Magnús Þórhallsson’s annals at the end of the manuscript indicate the book was completed in 1394 or 1395. Magnús illuminated the whole manuscript and was the scribe of King Sverrir’s Saga (composed in part by Abbot Karl Jónsson of Þingeyrar, Iceland, c. 1185). The saga contains eight initials decorated in a style combining Gothic curved and draped human figures with Romanesque grotesques and acanthus motifs. Five initials depict Sverrir (with crown, orb and weapons), his opponent Sigurðr, and their soldiers. One initial is foliate, and two depict hybrid monsters. The taunting grotesque (fol. 156r) sticking out its tongue probably echoes the Icelander in this chapter who deceives the Norwegians into believing he is of royal blood. Magnús’s illuminations comment symbolically and literally on the saga, but they do not subvert its meaning, presumably because Magnús is scribe as well as decorator and thus would not undermine the textual part of his compilation. Along with Magnús’s other Flateyjarbók illuminations, the art of King Sverrir’s Saga is the finest example of manuscript decoration for lay patrons in Iceland, matched in the religious sphere only by the illuminations of Stjörn (an Icelandic version of the Old Testament).


  • F. Jónsson: Flateyjarbók (Codex Flateyensis): MS. No. 1005 fol. in the old royal collection in The Royal Library of Copenhagen (Copenhagen, 1930)
  • B. Th. Björnsson: ‘Pictorial Art in the Icelandic Manuscripts’, Icelandic Sagas, Eddas, and art. Treasures Illustrating the Greatest Mediaeval Literary Heritage of Northern Europe (Reykjavík, 1982), pp. 26–38
  • B. Th. Björnsson: ‘Myndlist á síðmiðöldum’, Saga Íslands, 5 (Reykjavík, 1990), pp. 285–352
  • J. Kristjánsson: Icelandic Manuscripts: Sagas, History and Art ([Reykjavík], 1993)
  • T. A. Dubois: ‘A History Seen: The Uses of Illumination in Flateyjarbók’, J. Ger. & Eng. Philol., 103 (2004), pp. 1–52
  • G. Sigurðsson and V. Ólason, eds: The Manuscripts of Iceland (Reykjavík, 2004)
  • E. A. Rowe: ‘Drawing Conclusions: The Illuminations of Magnús Þórhallsson’, The Development of Flateyjarbók: Iceland and the Norwegian Dynastic Crisis of 1389 ([Odense], 2005), pp. 352–402