An especially interesting leaf from the 'Nuremberg Chronicle' (1493), the most famous 'Incunabula' book, depicting a powerful lightning strike in Istanbul in 1490 and the fall of a Meteorite in Alsace in 1492, as well as the burning alive of Jews in Mecklenberg in 1492.
This finely executed woodcut depicts the heart of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) as it was beset by a fantastic lightning strike on July 12, 1490, which resulted in much damage to the city. The view is dominated by the great dome of Hagia Sophia, built by Roman Emperor Justinian I (527-565 A.D.) as a Christian church. When the Ottomans took over the city in 1453, they converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The building, considered to be one of the greatest wonders of ancient architecture survives today and is now a museum.
The lightning strike is shown here to destroy the massive bronze statue of Justinian which had stood upon a high pedestal on the former Augustaion, a great square in the old Roman city. The author of the Nuremberg Chronicle, Hartmann Schedel claimed that he heard about the story of the statue's destruction from a Venetian merchant who had witnessed the event. In reality, the statue had been taken down and melted decades before on the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, in order to make cannonballs for use during the Siege of Belgrade (1456).
The lightning strike did, however, make a direct hit on a former church called by the Turks, Giin Gormez Kilisesi, which was being used as a powder store. The church blew up in a spectacular explosion, causing great carnage. Another large lighting strike, which occurred the same year, destroyed a Turkish army encampment near Istanbul and the combination of these two incidents was considered by commentators in Christian Europe to represent divine retribution against the Ottoman "Infidel".
The smaller view in the lower right of the leaf depicts the fall of a meteorite near Ensisheim, Alsace on November 7, 1492. The phenomenon was observable from as far as 100 miles away. The famous satirist Sebastian Brant, the future author of the bestseller Das Narrenschiff [translated as 'Ship of Fools'] (1494), observed the meteorite's fall from nearby Basle. This inspired him to write the poem, Loose Leaves Concerning the Fall of the Meteorite (1492). During the late medieval period, meteorites were generally viewed as ill omens by the populous and their appearance resulted in much social commentary and introspection.
The present work represents the 257th leaf of the Latin edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle and is one of the most engaging depictions of natural phenomena from the era.
On the verso is a woodcut illustration of Jews being burned alive for alleged host desecration in Sternberg, Mecklenburg, in 1492. Host desecration is a form of sacrilege in Christian denominations that follow the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It involves the mistreatment or malicious use of a consecrated host—the bread used in the Eucharistic service of the Divine Liturgy or Mass (also known by Protestants simply as Communion bread). During Medieval times, accusations of host desecration were a common pretext for pogroms against Jews.
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.