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Liber Chronicarum 1493

The Liber Chronicarum (Chronicle of the World or Nuremberg Chronicle) is one of the finest illustrated books produced during the early ages of printing. Latin and German editions were printed at separate times in 1493 in Nuremberg, Germany. The Chronicle documents the history of the Earth from creation to the 1490s. It is divided into seven ages that include:

The First Age - Creation to the Deluge
The Second Age - ends with the birth of Abraham
The Third Age - ends with the reign of King David
The Fourth Age - closes with the Babylonian captivity
The Fifth Age - closes with the Incarnations of Jesus
The Sixth Age - extends from the birth of Christ to the end of the world, "whose termination God only knows." The end of the Sixth Age contains three blank leaves in which to transcribe "various marvelous events" that occur after the publication of the book and before the end of the world.
The Seventh Age - the age of the Anti-Christ

(from http://lbis.kenyon.edu/sca/exhibits/incunabula/ce57s31493.phtml)

The Chronicle was written by a Nuremberg physician, Hartmann Schedel, who wrote the text by combining various versions of history found in books from his vast library. The workshop of Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff was responsible for creating the woodcuts. Albrect Durer, the famous printer and painter, apprenticed in Wolgemut/Pleydenwurff's workshop during the early years of the Chronicle's production. It is unknown if Durer had any role in the production of images for the Liber Chronicarum. Anton Koberger, who was the owner of Europe's largest printing house, was responsible for the printing of the book. He employed a gothic font for the text that emulated the lettering found in manuscripts produced at the time.

The book contains 1809 illustrations that were printed from 645 woodcuts. Many woodcuts are used numerous times throughout the book especially to illustrate cities that had geographical features unknown to the artists. This is demonstrated in the single woodcut used to depict Lyon and Bologna. The abundance of woodcuts depicting cityscapes is one of the characteristics that sets it apart from other world histories produced in the same era. The images illustrate biblical sites and cities in Germany and Europe from a bird's eye perspective. In addition to the cityscapes, many important religious and royal figures and historic events are represented in the Liber Chronicarum.

The leaf above shows the frontispiece of the book which depicts God the Father Enthroned. A banner including parts of Psalms 33/34 hovers above him while various human figures climb in the greenery above the banderole. Below there are two grotesque male figures holding escutcheons. When originally printed, these were left blank so that the owner could inscribe his coat of arms in the areas. You will notice from the image above that there are some faint sketches of a coats of arms that were never fully realized.

The pages that McCain Library owns are all colored. Only a portion of the Liber Chronicarums published had images that were colored freehand with a translucent wash. These painted editions sold for twice the price of the unpainted volumes.

McCain Library & Archives owns approximately 10 original pages from the German version of the Liber Chronicarum that was published in December 1493 (Woods print collection). If you are interested in looking at these items, please contact Jennifer Brannock at x4347 or jennifer.brannock@usm.edu. Special Collections also owns a reproduction of the entire Chronicle that may be viewed on the 3rd floor of McCain Library (SpCol D17 .S3415 1966).

For more information on Liber Chronicarum:

Landau, David; Parshall, Peter. The Renaissance Print. Yale University Press: New Haven, 1994. (Cook Library NE441.5 .R44 L35 1994)

Wilson, Adrian. The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Nico Israel: Amsterdam, 1976. (Cook Library Z241 .S37 W54)

Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300-1550. Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York, 1986. (This book is not held by USM Libraries, but may be borrowed through Document Delivery at Cook Library)

Dackerman, Susan. Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color in Northern Renaissance & Baroque engravings, etchings & woodcuts. Baltimore Museum of Art: Baltimore, 2002. (This book is not held by USM Libraries, but may be borrowed through Document Delivery at Cook Library)

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Text by Jennifer Brannock, Special Collections Librarian
E-mail:jennifer.brannock@usm.edu