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A LANDMARK IN THE HISTORY OF PRINTING, AND ONE OF THE GREATEST ILLUSTRATED BOOKS EVER PUBLISHED: FIRST EDITION OF THE MONUMENTAL “NUREMBERG CHRONICLE,” 1493
SCHEDEL, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum. (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 12 July 1493). Tall folio, late 19th-century full period-style dark brown morocco; ll. , , CCC (without two blanks only). Housed in a custom cloth clamshell box. $150,000.
First edition of the extraordinary “Nuremberg Chronicle,” the most profusely illustrated book of the 15th century, featuring the first modern map of Europe and Ptolemy’s map of the world. With folios CCLVIIII-CCLXI, (often missing) present and properly blank except for headlines and foliation, and with the five unnumbered leaves “De Sarmacia regione Europe” inserted before folio I. Portrait of Pope Joan (folio CLXIX, verso) intact and unmutilated. Handsomely bound in period-style by Rivière.
Hartmann Schedel compiled this elaborate history of the world from “the first day of creation” to his own time in an effort to correct what he felt was a slight to German history by other chroniclers. He divided his work into the usual six ages of the history of mankind, adding a seventh in which he foretold the coming of the Antichrist, the destruction of the world, and judgment day. The invention of printing is mentioned on verso of leaf CCLII: “born in Germany… in the city near the Rhine [i.e. Mainz]… in the year 1440”; on verso of leaf CCXC is a brief account (not appearing in the subsequent German edition of the same year) of the “Portuguese voyage of discovery along the coast of Africa in 1483 , under the direction of Diego Cam and Martin Behaim of Nuremberg, which has been used as a basis for the unwarranted theory that the expedition reached America” (Sabin). Leaves CCLVIIII-CCLXI were left blank by Schedel for the owner to record future historical events occurring after publication.
The fame of the volume rests on its illustrations. “There are 1809 woodcuts printed from 645 different blocks. They picture the major events of the Old and New Testaments, episodes in the lives of many saints, portraits of prophets, kings, popes, heroes, and great men of all centuries, freaks of nature, and panoramic views of cities. Nuremberg artists Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff were responsible for the production of the book… The wood blocks were designed by the two masters and their assistants, including the young Albrecht Dürer, who was apprenticed to Wolgemut at the time. The printing was carried out under the supervision of the great scholar-printer Anton Koberger, whose illustrated books were famous throughout Europe” (Legacies of Genius 5). The unusually detailed woodcuts, many full- and double-page, feature the first modern map of Europe (double-page), Ptolemy’s map of the world, and an extraordinary two-page illustration of the destruction of Jerusalem; biblical subjects include Adam and Eve and the building of the ark by Noah; cities include Nineveh, Rome, Nuremberg (showing the first German paper mill), Warsaw, Budapest, Venice, Basle, Paris; historical personages include the Venerable Bede, Wicliff, Boethius, Cato, Dante, St. Augustine, Charlemagne, and St. Catherine; this copy with the portrait of Pope Joan (leaf CLXIX, verso) and the accompanying text intact and unadulterated (the portrait is usually severely defaced). The illustrations in this work represent a landmark in the history of wood-cutting: “The peculiarity of the cuts in the ‘Nuremberg Chronicle’ is that they generally contain more of what engravers term ‘colour’ [shading to render form] than any which had previously appeared” (Chatto & Jackson, A Treatise on Wood-Engraving). The “Imago mortis” or Dance of Death, for example, (leaf CCLXIIII) has been described as “one of the most powerful representations of German art” (Stadler, 45).
Text in Latin. Without blank leaf after the description of Poland and one blank leaf at the end only. Folio 2, lined in red and rubricated, probably supplied from another copy. Hain-Copinger 14508. Goff S-307. Thacher 121. Sabin 77523. Church 7. BMC II: 437. Old annotations in ink on the title page; similar notes and sketches in the text, ink stains to folios 35v and 36r.
Occasional soiling and a few expert margin repairs, generally quite clean. Very handsome period-style Rivière binding lightly rubbed at corners, otherwise fine. Rare and extraordinarily important.