Carta Marina

Carta Marina was printed in the early 16th century and is the map that for the first time represented the Nordic countries in a more-or-less correct way. With this map, Swedish cartography was founded. The originator of the map was Olaus Magnus.

Carta Marina probably had a fairly small print run, which explains the rarity of the map. For centuries, nobody seems to have seen it, until a copy was found in 1886 in the Hof- und Staatsbibliothek in Munich, where it is still kept. Only 75 years later, a second copy was found, which Uppsala University Library acquired in 1962 from Switzerland.

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Already in 1572, the engraver Antonio Lafreri, who was working in Italy, make a reduced copperplate version of the map. The smaller format meant that many illustrations and other information of Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina could not be accommodated on Lafreri’s copperplate (one copy of Lafreri’s map is held at the National Library of Sweden).

A number of later reproductions have been produced based on the copies in Munich and Uppsala. Colour reproductions have also been published, but both the original maps preserved are uncoloured. 

The map consists of 3 x 3 sheets and each sheet measures 55 x 40 cm. The sheets are wood prints and each one printed individually. Together, the nine sheets make up a map that is 125 cm high and 170 cm wide.

Olaus Magnus - the originator of the map

The originator of the map was the Swedish churchman Olaus Magnus (1490–1557). For twelve years, he worked on the map, before it was printed in Venice in 1539 with the title Carta Marina. To the map, Olaus Magnus added descriptions in Latin (in the lower left corner of the map) and in Italian and German (printed separately).

In 1524, Olaus Magnus travelled to Rome on King Gustav Vasa’s behalf to negotiate with the papal Curia. The reformation in Sweden contributed to him never returning. He spent his life in exile working on historical research and authorship.

Carta Marina can be regarded as a predecessor of his great work Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Nordic People), printed in Rome in 1555. This is the first description of the Nordic countries and peoples taking a broad approach. The connection to Carta Marina is clear – it could be said that his Historia constitutes a particularly detailed commentary on the map.

Further reading

Herman Richter, Olaus Magnus Carta marina 1539, Lund 1967 (Lychnos-bibliotek, 11:2)

Ulla Ehrensvärd, Nordiska kartans historia. Från myter till verklighet, Helsingfors 2006 (engelsk utgåva: The history of the Nordic map. From myths to reality, Helsinki 2006)

Olaus Magnus, Carta marina 1539, édité et raconté par Elena Balzamo, Paris 2005

Olaus Magnus, Die Wunder des Nordens, erschlossen von Elena Balzamo und Reinhard Kaiser, Frankfurt am Main 2006

Last modified: 2021-02-24