Treasures of the Library : Nuremberg Chronicle : cover

'Hartmann Schedel','Georg Alt'

Treasures of the Library

The Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel printed in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger in 1493, or Nuremberg Chronicle as it is generally called, is one of the most important German incunables and the most extensively illustrated book of the 15th century.

The text is a universal history of the Christian world from the beginning of times to the early 1490s, written in Latin by the Nuremberg physician and humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) on commission from the Nuremberg merchants Sebald Schreyer (1446-1520) and Sebastian Kammermeister (1446-1503). Drawn by the author from multiple medieval and Renaissance sources, such as Bede, Vincent of Beauvais, Martin of Tropau, Flavius Blondus, Bartolomeo Platina and Philippus de Bergamo (Iacopo Filippo Foresta), the Chronicle also incorporates geographical and historical information on European countries and towns. The narrative is divided into 11 parts, the so-called world ages, and is profusely illustrated by images of biblical and historical events, and topographical views of towns and countries in Europe and the Middle East, including Jerusalem (and its destruction) and Byzantium.

Schreyer and Kammermeister commissioned the printing of the Chronicle to the Nuremberg printer Anton Koberger (ca.1440-1513), owner of the largest 15th-century German printing house. The Latin edition was printed in Koberger's shop between May 1492 and October 1493. In the meantime, a German translation was commissioned by the two financiers to Georg Alt (circa 1450-1510), a scribe at Nuremberg treasury, and the German edition was printed alongside the Latin one between January and December 1493. The project was completed on 23 December 1493.

Both editions are lavishly illustrated with 1804 xylographical images created from 641-643 woodblocks by the Nuremberg artists Michael Wolgemut (circa 1434/37 – 1519) and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (circa 1450 - 1494), a map of the world, showing the Gulf of Guinea discovered by the Portuguese in 1470, and a map of Northern and Central Europe by Hieronymus Münzer (circa 1437/1447 - 1508). The woodcut illustrations of a number of copies, both in Latin and in vernacular, were also supplied with hand colouring by contemporary German artists. The alleged involvement in the creation of the woodblocks of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), has now been rejected on the documentary evidence that he only worked as an apprentice in Wolgemut's workshop between 1486 and 1489, well before the beginning of the production of the Chronicle.

The beauty of the illustrative apparatus, the skilful production and the elegant mise-en-page of the both the Latin and German editions of the text account for the 'enduring value' of the Nuremberg Chronicle, which survives in circa 1240 copies of the Latin edition and in circa 1580 copies of the vernacular.

Cambridge University Library holds four exemplars of the Latin edition,including this hand-coloured example, donated to the University of Cambridge in 1574 by Matthew Parker (1504-1575), archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Elizabeth I, patron of scholarship and bibliophile. The donation is recorded under the title of the Prologue. During his life time Parker assembled an impressive library of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books, which he bequeathed to Corpus Christi College Cambridge in 1574. The Chronicle is one of the seventy-five books that he donated to the University in the same year, along with twenty-five manuscripts, and is by far the most lavishly illustrated.

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