Publication 1

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34,2×48,4 cm
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Publication 2

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33,8×49,7 cm
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Publication 3

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96,5×68,7 cm
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Þórður Þorláksson
Publication period:
1668 - 1670

The bridge of time between Iceland's two greatest mapmakers spans nearly 250 years. Bishop Gudbrandur Thorláksson and Björn Gunnlaugsson not only broke cartographic ground they also saw the fruits of their labour in print and distributed to an audience who acknowledged their achievements, albeit through surrogates. The fate of Bishop Thórdur Thorláksson, who with his knowledge, skills and accomplishments should be ranked as the third greatest mapmaker of Iceland, was not as kind.
Born at Hólar in Hjaltadalur in 1637, Thórdur was the son of Bishop Thorlákur Skúlason and his wife Kristín Gísladóttir. He was also the great-grandson of Bishop Gudbrandur Thorláksson. Thórdur was raised in an environment that encouraged learning, and he was well equipped to succeed. In 1647, his father completed a treatise for Otte Krag, Secretary to the Danish Chancellery, on the correctness of what foreigners had written about Iceland. The content of that work is in no small way an indication of the knowledge that was available to Thórdur in his youth. Upon completion of his education in Iceland he left for Copenhagen in 1656 and enrolled at the university there. Thórdur was truly an inquisitive and talented man, and used his time in Copenhagen to his advantage; for in addition to completing his theological studies in two years he also learned to play several musical instruments, and he was very learned in the sciences. He returned to Iceland and remained there for five years. He then departed for Copenhagen once more where he spent the winter of 1663. From there he went to Rostock, and six months later he made his way to Wittenberg where he studied until 1666. While in Wittenberg he completed an academic dissertation on an historical and chorographical description of Iceland. Entitled Dissertatio Chorographico-Historica De Islandia this scholarly work of 24 pages was printed three times between 1666 and 1690, which would point to its contemporary value within academic circles. No map of Iceland was included in Dissertatio and it is not known that one was ever intended; however, shortly after leaving Wittenberg and obtaining his master's degree in Copenhagen Thórdur embarked upon a period of map making.
His first two maps of Iceland were produced in 1668 and both are currently held by the Royal Library in Copenhagen (NKS 1088b fol). One would appear to be a rough draft of the other as the basic appearance, spatial data and places names are similar. If the general outline of these maps appears to be reminiscent of Bishop Gudbrandur Thorláksson's map of Iceland it can be said in his defense that Thórdur must have had an unfailing respect for his great-grandfather's abilities. On the other hand Thórdur's maps are much more detailed than either of the published variations of Bishop Gudbrandur's map and contain some 465 place names as opposed to his 250 place names. Thórdur also places Hólar in the exact location Gudbrandur had calculated astronomically nearly seventy years before.
Thórdur's third map of Iceland was completed sometime in 1670 and is now in the possession of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland (AM 379b fol). It was a personal gift to King Christian V of Denmark, who ascended the throne that same year. In contrast to his first two maps this one shows a remarkable improvement in the delineation of the southern and eastern coastlines; the number of place names increases to over 575; there are remarkably accurate short texts explaining unusual occurrences, events, beliefs and places of interest; and for the first time the Sprengisandur route through the interior is shown. Thórdur would appear to have had access to much more accurate data than he did for his first two maps. In all likelihood this map was made in Iceland between the brief period of time of his return in the spring of 1670 and his departure to Copenhagen in the spring of 1671 where he was ordained as Bishop of Skálholt.
It is sad to reflect upon the fate that awaited these maps as all three ended up filed and forgotten as regal reading material in the royal archives of Denmark. Only the last map was of some practical use when Árni Magnússon borrowed it in 1702 for one of his journeys to Iceland and somehow forgot to return it to its rightful owner.
Thórdur Thorláksson's finest cartographic achievement was without doubt his last map of Iceland. Had it not been sentenced to the archives it would have advanced the knowledge men had of Iceland and given Thórdur a name for posterity.

Mark Cohagen

Copyright owner of NKS 1088b fol (1668) is The Royal Library in Copenhagen. Copyright owner of AM 379b fol (1670) is the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. The maps are reproduced here with their kind permission.

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