Chronicarum or the Nuremberg Chronicle
Chronicarum or the Nuremberg Chronicle, as it is also known, is
a history of the world from creation to 1493, dividing earthly history
into six ages: from the creation to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from
Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian captivity, from the
Babylonian captivity to the birth of Christ and from the birth of Christ
to the end of the world (or 1493 - blank pages were left for owners to
fill in events after publication). Two further ages present future events.
The Seventh Age is the age of the Antichrist and the Ultimate Age is the
Last Judgment. It is one of the finest illustrated books of the
fifteenth century with illustrations of biblical scenes, major cities,
characters from myths and fables, the genealogical tables of emperors (see
fig. 2), kings and popes as well as maps.
The Liber Chronicarum
was commissioned by two wealthy Nuremberg merchants and brothers in law,
Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermaister. They contracted Michael
Wohlgemut (1434-1519) and his stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (c.1460-1494)
to make the woodcuts for the book and to draw up layouts showing the
setting of the type and the placement of the woodcuts. The text was
supplied by Hartman Schedel (1440-1514), a physician and humanist scholar.
Schedel supplied little original material for the work but relied heavily
on the work of others including Jacob Philip Foresti of Bergamo, whose Supplementum
Chronicarumn was reproduced almost word for word. For some of the
contemporary material he drew heavily upon Historia Bohemica, Rome
1475, by Aneas Sylvius Piccolomini. While Liber Chronicarum
contains much historical material it also gives much room to accounts of
curiosities, myths and fables. As notable as the material contained in Liber
Chronicarum is what it leaves out. For example, the death of Lorenzo
di Medici is not recorded nor is the adoption of Roman law in Germany. The
famous printer, Anton Koberger (1445-1513), the largest printer and
publisher in Germany at the time, was employed to print the book. At his
height, Koberger ran 24 presses and employed 100 craftsmen. The Latin
edition was published on 12 July 1493, and a German edition, translated by
George Alt, the city scribe of Nuremberg, was published on 23 December
Perhaps the most important
features of the Liber Chronicarum are its design and illustrations.
The layouts for the illustration and typesetting of the book survive and
show that the woodblock subjects were sketched at first and the text was
then inscribed to fit within the remaining space. The result is a marriage
between text and illustration never seen before. The artists produced
fourteen basic page layouts, with a number of variations, for the book.
They cut 645 different blocks and used some several times for the final
1809 illustrations, the same cut often being used to illustrate different
towns or people. For example, the woodcut that is used to represent
Damascus on fol. XVIII is used to represent Verona on fol. LVII and is
also used to represent Mantua and Naples elsewhere in the work (see
fig.3). However, in some of the depictions of the more important cities
such as Jerusalem and Constantinople an effort has been made to put in
recognisable landmarks. For example, we see the Temple of Solomon and
other landmarks depicted in the woodcut of Biblical Jerusalem (see fig.
4). Some see evidence of the hand of Albrecht Dürer in some of the
illustrations. Although this is possible, as he was apprenticed to
Wohlgemut, this is doubted by many scholars.
The Nuremberg Chronicle receives much scholarly attention
nowadays but the fact that some 800 examples of the Latin edition and 400
of the German edition are still in existence also testifies to the popularity
of the Liber Chronicarum in its own time also. In fact, it is
estimated that around 1500 copies of the Latin edition and 1000 of the
German edition were printed. It was popular enough to be pirated. Three
years after the first edition was complete Johann Schönsperger (d. 1520)
of Augsburg printed a version in German and went on to produce an edition
in Latin and another in German.
Further reading and books used in the
compilation of this piece:
Adrian Wilson. The making of the Nuremberg chronicle.
Amsterdam : Nico Israel , 1977.
Hartmann Schedel. Chronicle of the world : the complete
and annotated Nuremberg chronicle of 1493, introduction and appendix
by Stephan Füssel. Köln, London : Taschen, 2001.
Text by Hugh Cahill, Senior Information Assistant, Foyle Special Collections Library
Fictitious portrait of
Hartmann Schedel from Schedel's own estate, pasted into a medical
Albrecht Dürer at the age
of 16. Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum
Albrecht Dürer: 'Portrait
of Michael Wohlgemut', with monogram and dated 1516. Nuremberg,
Michael Wohlgemut (?),
'Dance of Death'. Pen and black ink. Braunschweig, Herzog-Anton-
"Dance of Death"
in the German printed edition, folio CCLXI recto