The biggest project from the early days of printing: Schedel's famous world chronicle with 1,821 woodcuts from the world of the 15th century by Michael Wolgemut and Albrecht Dürer

Liber Chronicarum

Liber Chronicarum

Liber Chronicarum

  1. German humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) was responsible for the most ambitious book project of the incunabula period

  2. Illustrated by Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519) and his apprentice Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), including 29 double-page cityscapes

  3. Printed by Anton Koberger (ca. 1440-1513) in both Latin and German editions in 1493

Liber Chronicarum

Liber Chronicarum – Inc/750 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

The most illustrated incunabulum in the world with a total of 1,821 engravings: the Liber Chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel. Also known as Schedel’s World Chronicle or the Nuremberg Chronicle, the pre-1501 printed book spans the history of the world from creation up to the end of the 15th century. In addition to panoramic cityscapes and biblical scenes, it contains 596 portraits of popes, emperors, kings, and other prominent or famous figures. Printed by Anton Koberger in Nuremberg on July 12th, 1493, some of the woodcuts may have been contributed by a young Albrecht Dürer, who was Koberger’s godson an apprentice of Michael Wolgemut at the time.

Liber Chronicarum

The Liber Chronicarum is considered to be the greatest and most significant book project from the early period of book printing. In the fascinating milieu of the Nuremberg humanists and artists of the late 15th century, a group gathered around Hartmann Schedel. The big names brought together: Michael Wolgemut – the teacher of Albrecht Dürer! – and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff as the artist of the grandiose woodcuts, Anton Koberger as the printer, with moneyed burghers and humanists as the patrons and financiers of the gigantic project. The significant Nuremberg Chronicle covers history from the creation of the world up to the year 1493 is particularly famous today for its wonderful cityscapes, of which some are considered to be the first realistic depiction of those cities.

A Renaissance Man Among Like-Minded People

Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), a Nuremberg doctor, humanist, and historian followed the aim of giving a comprehensive, comprehensible ordering of the world with his chronicle. He succeeded in ingeniously implementing this intention. Nuremburg, the Franconian metropolis and South German center of humanism and art ca. 1500, offered the ideal conditions for it. Schedel, whose comprehensive library is still famous today, was esteemed in the highest circles of society in Nuremberg and consorted with all of the great minds of the city. As a result, he was successful in filling many of the burghers with excitement for the project and winning over the greatest names for it.

A History of the World

The chronicle spanning from the creation of the Earth up to the year 1493 is subdivided into six parts respective to the six ages of the world as was then typical. Thus, following the introduction by Isidore of Seville, Hermann Schedel appends it with a seventh and eighth part. In this attempt at an ordering of the world, the Renaissance man collected biblical stories, historical events and people, curious and sensational tales of wonder, and geographic information. As it was published in 1493, the Liber Chronicarum reflected the current state of knowledge at that time.

A Project without Precedent

The ambitious book project was transcribed in the famous printing shop of Anton Koberger (ca. 1400/45-1513). 100 typesetters and printers at 18 presses busied themselves with work on the world chronicle for fifteen months. On 568 pages, the work collects over 1,800 woodcuts, an unprecedented abundance of images. The responsibility for this artistic design rested with the exceptional artist Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519) together with Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (ca. 1420-72) and his workshop. This is even where the most famous Nuremberg artist of this time, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) did his apprenticeship until the year 1490. Whether he too participated in the book project is fiercely debated among researchers, but the fact that Koberger was his godfather is a strong indicator that he may have been.

The Fascinating Pictorial Adornment

The Liber Chronicarum contains numerous illustrations to stories from the Bible, lives of saints, miracle stories, and the like. Thus there is a page with a list and depiction of wondrous creatures from antique sources, similar to the miniatures of medieval bestiaries. Yet the illustrations of the geographical parts of the book are especially famous: 29 double-page cityscapes, a world map, and a map of Europe adorn the chronicle. Particularly outstanding is the woodcut of Nuremberg with the Kaiserburg, the Imperial Castle, which is enthroned above the city. However, Rome, Paris, Cologne, and countless other cities were also visually recorded and sometimes show the oldest realistic depictions of those cities. Schedel did not want any fantasy, but rather the most realistic views possible, which illustratively accompany the descriptions of the cities.

Famous Across Europe

The Liber Chronicarum was printed in two editions, one in Latin and a German edition, and was thus disseminated across Europe. Numerous specimens survive to today. The library of the Monastery of Santa Maria de la Vid in Spain houses a Latin specimen of this most important illustrated incunabulum. Schendel’s World Chronicle has gone down in history as the most ambitious book project of the incunabula period. A groundbreaking work, considered to be an important attestation of the connection between art and humanism in Nuremberg, the South German metropolis of the Middle Ages, and a superlative as a book project!

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Liber Chronicarum“

Liber Chronicarum
Liber Chronicarum – Inc/750 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain)
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Liber Chronicarum

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Vicent Garcia Editores – Valencia, 1994
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