Antique woodblock from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle depicting the genealogy of Saint Henry The Emperor on verso. On the recto is an image of Emperor Henry II and Saint Kunigunde holding a model of a cathedral church in Bamberg that had been founded by Henry II, which became the location where he and his wife were buried. Also on recto are the portrait of Conrad the Second and images of a solar eclipse and a comet.
Hartmann Schedel's Liber Chronicarum: Das Buch der Croniken und Geschichten (loosely translated as World Chronicle, but popularly referred to as the Nuremberg Chronicle) was the first secular book to include the style of lavish illustrations previously reserved for Bibles and other liturgical works. The work was intended as a history of the world, from Creation to 1493, with a final section devoted to the anticipated Last Days of the World.
This work is without question the most important illustrated secular work of the fifteenth century and its importance rivals the early printed editions of Ptolemy's Geographia and Bernard von Breydenbach's Perengrinatio in Terram Sanctam in terms of its importance in the development and dissemination of early illustrated books. Published in Nuremberg by Anton Koberger, the book was first printed in Latin and followed five months later by a German edition translated by George Alt. This work enjoyed immense commercial success. A reduced-size version of the book was published in 1497, in Augsburg, by Johann Schonsperger. The illustration for Venice is adapted from the larger illustration of Venice in Breydenbach's Peregrinatio, which was illustrated by Dutch artist Erhard Reuwich, who was working in Mainz in the 1480s.
While the majority of the illustrations in the book depict the various saints, royalty, nobility, and clergyman of the period, the work is perhaps best known for the large-format views of a number of the major European cities, including Rome, Venice, Paris, Vienna, Florence, Genoa, Saltzburg, Crakow, Breslau, Budapest, Prague, and major cities in the Middle East, including Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Constantinople. The work also included a magnificent double-page map of the world, a large map of Europe and several famous illustrations, including the "Dance of Death" and scenes from the Creation and the Last Judgement. While many of the double-page city views are less than accurate illustrations of the cities as they existed at the end of the fifteenth century, the illustrations are of great importance in the iconographic history of each of the cities depicted. Some of the double-page views were also apparently offered separately for sale, including some which had been colored prior to sale.
Schedel's world map is based upon Ptolemy, omitting Scandinavia, southern Africa, and the Far East, and depicting the Indian Ocean as landlocked. The depiction of the world is surrounded by the figures of Shem, Japhet and Ham, and the sons of Noah, who repopulated the Earth after the Flood. On the left, printed from a separate block, are pictures of various mythical creatures, based upon classical and early medieval travelers' accounts, including "a six-armed man, possibly based on a file of Hindu dancers so aligned that the front figure appears to have multiple arms; a six-fingered man, a centaur, a four-eyed man from a coastal tribe in Ethiopia; a dog-headed man from the Simien Mountains, a cyclops, one of those men whose heads grow beneath their shoulders, one of the crook-legged men who live in the desert and slide along instead of walking; a strange hermaphrodite, a man with one giant foot only (stated by Solinus to be used as a parasol but more likely an unfortunate sufferer from elephantiasis), a man with a huge underlip (doubtless seen in Africa), a man with waist-length hanging ears, and other frightening and fanciful creatures of a world beyond" (Stanford Ruderman catalog). The world map also includes a large island off the west coast of Africa, which may relate to the account of Martin Behaim's voyage to the region, which is referenced by Schedel in the text.
Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) was a physician, book collector, and writer whose most famous work, the Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), included some of the first printed views of many cities in Europe and across the world.
Schedel was born and died in Nuremberg, but he also traveled for his education. From 1456 to 1463 he lived in Leipzig, where he attended the University of Leipzig and earned his MA. From there he went to Padua, where he earned a Doctor of Medicine in 1466. After university, he worked for a time in Nördlingen and then returned to Nuremberg. In 1482 he was elected a member of the Great Council of Nuremberg.
The Chronicle was published in 1493 and contained 1,800 woodcut images executed by Michael Wohlgemut (1434-1519) and his stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (1460-1494). Wohlgemut’s apprentice, the famous printmaker Albrecht Durer, also likely worked on some of the woodcuts. The work includes large format views of many cities including Rome, Venice, Paris, Vienna, Florence, Genoa, Salzburg, Krakow, Breslau, Budapest, Prague, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, as well as a number of towns in what would become the German Empire. A double-page map of the world was also part of the Chronicle’s many illustrations.
Besides the Nuremberg Chronicle, one of Schedel’s most enduring legacies is his magnificent manuscript and printed book collection, one of the largest of the fifteenth century. In 1552, Schedel's grandson, Melchior Schedel, sold about 370 manuscripts and 600 printed works from Hartmann Schedel's library to Johann Jakob Fugger. Fugger later sold his library to Duke Albert V of Bavaria in 1571. This library is now mostly preserved in the Bayerische Staasbibliothek in Munich.
Among the surviving portions of Schedel's library are the records for the publication of the Chronicle, including Schedel's contract with Anton Koberger for the publication of the work and the financing of the work by Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, as well as the contracts with Wohlgemut and Pleydenwurff for the original artworks and engravings. The collection also includes original manuscript copies of the work in Latin and German.