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Liber chronicarum, Nuremberg, 1493

LHartmann Schedel, Nuremberg 1440 - ? 1514, Liber chronicarum Nuremberg, Anton K

Hartmann Schedel, Nuremberg 1440 - ? 1514, Liber chronicarum Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1493.
47 x 33 cm. Pigskin binding, stamping, corner bosses, repaired clasps, rebacked. Some marginalia Inscribed on title page, in at least two different hands: “1589. ”Athenæum purchase, Bromfield Fund, 1847.

The Liber chronicarum, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, is one of most celebrated books to be issued during the early years of printing, mainly because of its 1,809 glorious images. Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), a doctor and scholar in Nuremberg, wrote this history, beginning at the Book of Genesis and continuing through biblical and Roman history to his contemporary history of Nuremberg, leaving blank pages for the reader to fill in before ending his text with the Apocalypse. Though he considered himself a humanist and used many Latin classical sources, Schedel followed the medieval tradition of copying from various sources, many of which we can trace because much of his library remained intact and is in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich.

An amazing amount of information is known about the making of the Nuremberg Chroniclebecause contracts and exemplars survive. The main contract was dated December 29, 1491; the work began, however, with agreements made during 1487and1488. Two merchants, Sebald Schreyer (1446-1520) and Sebastian Kammermaister (1446-1503), subsidized the undertaking and contracted the two artists Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519) and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (d. 1494) to split the proceeds. Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) was apprenticed to Wolgemut and was also involved in this massive project. Exemplars were the manuscript layouts with sketches to show the arrangement of texts and images to the printer, Anton Koberger (c. 1440-1513). There were two exemplars for the Nuremberg Chronicle, one for the Latin version written by Schedel and another for the German translation by George Alt (c. 1450-1510). The Latin edition was finished on July 12, 1493, and the German on December 23, 1493. There are 800 extant copies of the Latin edition and 408 of the German. It has been estimated that a bound and colored copy cost six guilders.[1]

In 1847 the cornerstone was laid with ceremony for the new building at 10½ Beacon Street, and in that year the Boston Athenæum purchased its Liber chronicarumin Latin with proceeds from the Bromfield Fund, established as an endowed book fund just the previous year. Its binding is pigskin. The design consists of figures in stamped, rectangular boxes and differs on the front and back. At some point it was re-backed, indicating that the material covering the spine was replaced, and there are corner bosses and two metal clasps with leather hinges (repaired). So much paper was needed that Koberger had to use many sources, all of which contained different watermarks. Interestingly, however, he did not use any paper from Nuremberg’s paper mills.[2]There are some hand-lettered initials, and the woodcut illustrations have been colored. Not all copies are colored, however: some were done by the printer, some later by the bookseller or at the purchaser’s behest. The Athenæum’s copy was colored by hand before binding, because there is no sign of color transferred to the opposite page.[3] However, it is clear that the Library’s copy was rebound, because the pages were cut at some point, as evidenced by the abrupt ending of marginalia on many pages. Previous ownership of this copy is unknown. There is no coat of arms stamped on the cover or any of the pages. There is a handwritten note, dated 1589, on the index title page; however, if anyone is named, it is not decipherable.

The depiction of Nuremberg is the only two-page, text-free spread of a town in the Nuremberg Chronicle, which features over 100 town images from only 53 woodcuts. Clearly, not all were accurately portrayed, but Nuremberg’s importance as an imperial city, with a vibrant merchant and intellectual class, was realistically shown, from the labeled spires of the churches of St. Sebald and St. Laurence to the many other architectural features such as the castle, towers, city gate, and bridge, as well as the paper mill in the bottom right corner.[4]


Mary E. Warnement, from, Stanley Ellis Cushing and David B. Dearinger, eds., Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum (2006): 70-72. Copyright © The Boston Athenæum.

[1] Adrian Wilson, The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle (Amsterdam: Nico Israel, 1976), 42, 46, 60-61, 199, 237, 238.
[2] Ibid., 188.
[3] Susan Dackerman, Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color in Northern Renaissance & Baroque Engravings, Etchings, & Woodcuts (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), 104.
[4] Stephan Füssel, ed., Chronicle of the World: The Complete and Annotated Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493(Cologne: Taschen, 2001), 649.