Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum is more usually known as The Nuremberg Chronicle or Die Schedelsche Weltchronik. Dating from 1493, the work is classed as an incunable – a book from the ‘cradle of printing’, pre-dating 1500, created at the very beginnings of movable type.
The text is a chronicle, or universal history, of the Christian world up to the early 1490s. Its conception has been attributed to the artist, William Wolgemut. It is said that Wolgemut aspired to create a richly illustrated world history and sought help from Nuremberg’s wealthy classes to achieve this. The Nuremberg physician and humanist, Hartmann Schedel, created the text for the book, and local merchants, Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, provided financial support. This enabled the printer, Anton Koberger, to accept the commission and produce the book which has been called: “the largest printing enterprise of the incunable period.” [Posselt]
The Nuremberg Chronicle depicts the six ‘Biblical ages’ of world history to 1493 and discusses the Day of Judgement to come. The first five ages focus on the Old Testament, the birth of Jesus Christ appearing at the very end of the fifth age. Within this, the work incorporates extensive geographical and historical descriptions of European cities. It was revolutionary in aiming to promote the cities of the Holy Roman Empire, raising these to the status of the Classical Italian cities of the Renaissance. In 1493, the German city of Nuremberg had a massive population of around 50,000 and the book’s creators wanted to sing the praises of their hometown! Schedel drew much of the composition from medieval sources, including Jacob Philip Foresti of Bergamo’s Supplementum Chronicarum, and the writings of the Venerable Bede, Vincent of Beauvais, Martin of Tropau and Flavius Blondus. It is thought that only around ten percent of the text was in fact written by Schedel himself.
The Nuremberg Chronicle was a truly unprecedented work, due to the quantity of illustrations provided and the way that these accompany the text. It should be remembered that the book was produced less than 50 years after Johannes Gutenberg had unveiled his revolutionary press with movable type, making extensive image incorporation an incredible feat. The work has the distinction of being the most richly illustrated printed book produced in the fifteenth century, with over 1800 woodblock prints by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff – possibly with the input of a young Albrecht Dürer, an apprentice of Wolgemut and the printer’s godson. This contributed to the popularity of the book, which ran to five editions in the first eight years of its existence.
Of around 1500 Latin copies of the work produced, such as this, around 1240 are thought to have survived to the present day. A remarkable achievement when it is considered that the book is 528 years old! This copy of The Nuremberg Chronicle has been passed down through several generations of one family and is presented for sale on the 22nd September, the star lot in our Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Photographs auction.
Lyon & Turnbull’s dedicated team of Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps specialists have established an international reputation for their auctions, selling both through our UK auction house, and via live online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on books and manuscripts, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to the successful sale of fine antiquarian books, modern first editions, folios, autographed letters and important archives.