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Olaus Magnus' 16th-Century Map of Scandinavia

The Carta Marina

Printing

Students study Carta Marina

Students from the Freshman Map Seminar study Olaus Magnus' map and give a perspective as to its size and shape.

Olaus had a right of publication from the Venetian Doge Pietro Lando and the imprimatur of Pope Paul III, so the map’s importance seems to have been recognized at the time it was made.

Probably there were few buyers in Italy for a detailed map of Scandinavia! No matter how many copies of early wall maps were printed, they were difficult to preserve. Like other early wall maps, the Carta Marina became rare soon after it was printed.

Printing large surfaces with the hand presses available in the sixteenth century was difficult. The bed (printing surface) of the hand press was limited to a size that a printer could reasonably ink by hand. The size of the area to be printed was also limited by the need to apply even pressure in printing.

Paper also curtailed the size of the image printed, since paper was made by hand, using a mold (or frame) with a fine screen at the bottom. Pulp made from beaten cloth, almost exclusively linen, was poured into the mold. The paper maker shook the pulp carefully so that it spread evenly on the screen. When dry enough to handle the sheet was removed from the mold. This method of production determined the size of a sheet, which was basically the size of the mold that one man could hold and shake by himself.

Olaus wanted his map to be large, a map that could not be printed on a single sheet, or even on two or four sheets, the format commonly used for larger maps of his time. How could he get the size he wanted? The solution was to use more woodblocks.

The map created by Olaus Magnus was printed on nine woodblocks, with each complete map made up of nine sheets of paper, which when trimmed and joined formed a map about 4 feet high by 5 feet wide! It was the largest engraved map in the world.