The Nuremberg Chronicle is an illustrated Biblical paraphrase and world history that follows the story of human history related in the Bible; it includes the histories of a number of important Western cities. Written in Latin by Hartmann Schedel, with a version in German translation by Georg Alt, it appeared in 1493. It is one of the best-documented early printed books—an incunabulum —and one of the first to successfully integrate illustrations and text.
Latin scholars refer to it as Liber Chronicarum (Book of Chronicles) as this phrase appears in the index introduction of the Latin edition. English speakers have long referred to it as the Nuremberg Chronicle after the city in which it was published. German speakers refer to it as Die Schedelsche Weltchronik (Schedel’s World History) in honour of its author.
The illustrations in many copies were hand-coloured after printing.
Two Nuremberg merchants, Sebald Schreyer (1446-1503) and his son-in-law, Sebastian Kammermeister (1446-1520), commissioned the Latin version of the Chronicle. They also commissioned George Alt (1450 – 1510), a scribe at the Nuremberg treasury, to translate the work into German. Both Latin and German editions were printed by Anton Koberger, in Nuremberg. The contracts were recorded by scribes, bound into volumes, and deposited in the Nuremberg City Archives. The first contract, from December, 1491, established the relationship between the illustrators and the patrons. Wolgemut and Pleydendurff, the painters, were to provide the layout of the Chronicle, to oversee the production of the woodcuts, and to guard the designs against piracy. The patrons agreed to advance 1000 gulden for paper, printing costs, and the distribution and sale of the book. A second contract, between the patrons and the printer, was executed in March, 1492. It stipulated conditions for acquiring the paper and managing the printing. The blocks and the archetype were to be returned to the patrons once the printing was completed.
The author of the text, Hartmann Schedel, was a medical doctor, humanist and book collector. He earned a doctorate in medicine in Padua in 1466, then settled in Nuremberg to practice medicine and collect books. According to an inventory done in 1498, Schedel’s personal library contained 370 manuscripts and 670 printed books. The author used passages from the classical and medieval works in this collection to compose the text of Chronicle. He borrowed most frequently from another humanist chronicle,Supplementum Chronicarum, by Jacob Philip Foresti of Bergamo. It has been estimated that about 90% of the text is pieced together from works on humanities, science, philosophy, and theology, while about 10% of the Chronicle is Schedel’s original composition.
The Chronicle was first published in Latin on 12 July 1493 in the city of Nuremberg. This was quickly followed by a German translation on 23 December 1493.
Reference for images:
The world map