Nuremberg Chronicle | Liber Chronicarum



Printed in Nuremberg, Germany

Language: Latin

Binding contemporary with book

Multnomah County Library, John Wilson Special Collections
Bequest of John Wilson


Medieval Portland Capstone Student, Summer 2005 (Name withheld by request)
This copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle currently housed in the John C. Wilson Rare Book Room at the central Multnomah County Library is the Latin version from Koberger's original 1493 printing. It was purchased by Wilson in 1890 from the London bookseller James Roche. The cover is pigskin over pressed board, and its binding is contemporary with the printing. On the inside of the front cover, Wilson pasted in eight articles advertising various copies of the Chronicle; it is uncertain whether any of these articles were advertising this particular copy. A librarian has inserted an envelope containing a letter from Roche to Wilson concerning the sale of the book. Also in the envelope there are several pages handwritten by Wilson noting the condition of this copy. One of these notes reads, "blind stamper very worn, interior fair - watermarks and some brown spots." The inside covers as well as the first pages of the index have a few small worm holes. On the upper left edge of the first page, which is stained from an apparent ink spill, is written “vide etiam fol. 252 ab inis;” on the bottom left of this page is inscribed “R.J. Fischer 1808.” The first folio (which on the recto side contains a text of introduction, and on the verso a “portrait” of God) is missing. On the second folio, someone, most likely a bookseller, has scratched out one of the numerals in “Folium II,” so that it appears to read “Folium I.” Throughout the book there are marginal annotations written in Latin in several different hands. Ink stains the bottom of folio XXXI. Folio CIV is torn, as is folio CXXXIII. On the inside back cover is inscribed “Anno 1660 Georgius Hofstein.”

The Liber Chronicarum, more widely known in English as the Nuremberg Chronicle compiles the history of the world from Creation to 1493 in six hundred pages. The text was compiled by Hartmann Schedel and accompanied by a then unprecedented number of woodcut illustrations, credited to Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff. The book was printed in two editions. A Latin version, printed June 12, 1493, was followed by a German version, translated by Georg Alt and printed December 23, 1493. Both versions were first printed by Anton Koberger, who ran a prominent Nuremberg printing shop in the latter half of the 15th century.

Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) was born in Nuremberg and obtained a Magister Artium (Master of Arts) degree in Leipzig. He then traveled to Padua, Italy, where he studied medicine. Alongside his medical studies, he studied Greek under Professor Demetrios Chalkondydes, becoming one of the first Germans to study Greek. After garnering this exposure to early humanistic thought in Italy, he returned to Nuremberg and set to work as a physician, all the while maintaining his passion for books. Schedel became well known for his library, which contained over 600 volumes of both printed books and manuscripts. Some of these texts - especially the ancient Greek and Latin (both ecclesiastical and otherwise) - in turn became the sources for the Nuremberg Chronicle. (Schedel himself did not write any of the Chronicle's text, with the exception of linking words and sentences and the occasional annotation.)

The Chronicle is split into two primary parts: the history of the world (divided into six “ages”), and an appendix that gives descriptions of the European cities highlighted in the text. The chronology of the six ages Schedel casts over the world is thus: “from Creation to Noah; from Noah to Abraham; from Abraham to David; from David to the Babylonian captivity; from thence to the birth of Christ; and from the birth of Christ to the Day of Judgement” (Zahn, 19-20). The concept of world-historical time being split into six ages was a “basic scheme employed by all medieval historiographers,” and in this regard Schedel was very much a medieval historiographer (Zahn, 19). Yet it is as a compiler of texts where Schedel can be regarded as an early proponent of humanism in Germany: as noted, he was one of the first Germans to study Greek, and throughout the Chronicle he made extensive use of ancient Greek texts. In this light, the Nuremberg Chronicle can be understood as inhabiting the liminal space between the medieval and Renaissance periods.

In the early 16th century, the Chronicle was popular throughout Germany as a picture book. While the book has 1809 illustrations from Wolgemut and Pleydenwurff's workshop, only 652 woodblocks were used (Diebold, 15). The majority of the illustrations are either views of cities, or portraits of historically important figures (with many of the figures on one page linked by vines to portray familial, royal, or ecclesiastical lineage). Also included are two maps of the world, and several catalogues of variously deformed, humanesque creatures (from which come many of the book's most famous pictures). Indeed, much of what gives historical value to the Chronicle is not Schedel's historical text, but the sheer amount of its accompanying illustrations.

Note: In fact, the entire enterprise of the making of the Nuremberg Chronicle was undertaken by Nuremberg's elite: Schedel was at the time of compiling the book the town physician; Alt was town treasurer; Wolgemut and his son-in-law Pleydenwurff ran the well-known workshop which apprenticed Koberger's godson, Albrecht Durer (to whom several illustrations in the Chronicle are attributed); the publishers and patrons of the Chronicle were Sebald Schreyer and his brother-in-law Sebastian Kammermaister, two wealthy Nuremberg businessmen. All of these men lived and/or worked only houses away from one another in the wealthiest section of Nuremberg, centered around the Aegidienplatz, which is now one of the oldest squares in Nuremberg.

Suggested Reading:

Diebold, William J. The Illustrated Book in the Age of Printing: Books and Manuscripts from Oregon. Portland, OR: Cooley Art Gallery, Reed, 1993.

Wilson, Adrian. The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Amsterdam; Nico Israel,1978.

Zahn, Peter. “Introduction,” from The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Ibid. 15-29.