The Nuremberg Chronicle

Selections from the Rare Book Room
June 1, 2002

 


Liber Chronicarum, 1493

Liber Chronicarum, 1493 Text by Hartmann Schedel

The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collection Library owns a rare copy of the first German edition of the Liber Chronicarum, published in 1493. Bibliophiles consider it a monument among incunabula (books published before 1501).

Also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, the book was the inspiration of six men from the city of Nuremberg who wanted to record the history of the world, from creation until their day, both in word and in design. In achieving such a printing feat, they hoped to bring great renown to their beloved city. Upon the book's completion, the printer, Anton Koberger, advertised its uniqueness: "But Nothing like this has hitherto appeared to increase and heighten the Delight of Men of Learning and of Everyone who has any education at all." These words still ring true today.

Though the author, Hartmann Schedel, wrote the original text in Latin, one needn't understand this language to "read" and enjoy the book. Numerous woodcuts recount the world's history, with Schedel's text serving a supporting role. Nearly 2,000 illustrations made from more than 600 different woodcuts depict his Seven Ages of the World. Among the designs are twenty-six city landscapes whose distinguishing features are still recognizable today. The volume also includes illustrations of various historical figures. Since a single woodcut was often used to create more than one image, images of Plutarch, Dante, and Cato resemble each other closely, as do Nebuchadnezzar and several German emperors.

Koberger printed the volume on heavy handmade paper using a gothic type. Upon Schedel's request, he inserted three blank leaves so future owners could continue to record the history of the world after 1493. He left blank spaces at the beginning of major sections of the text for illuminators to add artistic touches to individual copies. The presence and the quality of illuminations in extant copies probably reflect the wealth of the original owner. At the time of printing, purchasers could buy the text bound or unbound. Bindings usually consisted of thick wooden boards covered in colored pigskin or dark brown leather, the leather decorated with stamping.

The first Latin edition, published in June 1493, received such wide acclaim that the patrons of the book offered a German edition, Das Buch der Croniken und Geshicten, in December 1493. Georg Alt, a leading humanist in Nuremberg, translated the text, simultaneously editing Schedel's work to appeal to a broader German public. He also chose to rearrange some of the woodcuts and remove the three blank leaves. Otherwise, the size and format of this German edition parallel that of the earlier Latin edition.

The copy owned by Duke is bound in stamped, dark-brown leather. With the exception of a few red devices, it is not illuminated.

The Nuremberg Chronicle was a gift from Harry L. Dalton '16, who spent his lifetime collecting art, rare books, and manuscripts. The Dalton Room in the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library now houses the Nuremberg Chronicle.