World history through late-medieval eyes

The Liber chronicarum is a world history from the late middle ages compiled by the Nuremberg doctor Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514). A passionate book collector, Schedel witnessed the shift from handwritten to printed books during his lifetime. The first book printed with individual metal letters rolled off the printing press at Johann Gutenberg in Mainz in 1456.

Hartmann Schedel compiled a collection of printed books and manuscripts that was impressive for the time. Fortunately, the collection has been preserved. Schedel’s grandson sold the collection to Jan Jakob Fugger, a bibliophile descendant of the well-known Augsburg family of bankers. Financial need forced Fugger to sell his book collection to Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, whose collection is now kept in the Bavarian State Library in Munich. The collection includes the 370 manuscripts and 600 printed books left behind by Schedel, whose main interests were medicine, philosophy, history and geography.

History including a look ahead to Judgement Day

Schedel's world history covers the period from the creation of the world to around 1450, which is followed by a look ahead to Judgement Day. In line with tradition, Schedel’s world history is divided into seven periods. A summary of the story of Creation is presented in the first period, which is followed by the periods running from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy, from the Babylonian Captivity to the birth of Christ, and from the birth of Christ to Judgement Day, the sixth period, which includes Schedel's own time. The final period, the seventh period, comprises the Kingdom of the Antichrist, ending with Judgement Day.

The most richly illustrated incunable

Schedel’s primary source was the Supplementum chronicarum by Filippo Foresti da Bergamo (1434-1530), but he also added information from a range of other works, including Speculum historiale by Vincentius van Beauvais (ca. 1190-1264).

Schedel’s Liber chronicarum is not so much well-known for its text, but rather for its typography and the unusually large number of illustrations for the time. Published in 1493 in Latin and German by Nuremburg printer Anton Koberger, the book contains more than 1,800 woodcuts and is therefore the most richly illustrated incunable.

A number of illustrations are included more than once, however, meaning that ‘only’ 645 woodcuts had to be produced. These woodcuts were designed and cut in the Nuremburg studio of Michael Wolgemuth and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, where Albrecht Dürer also trained.

Stylistic similarities with Dürer’s work suggest he was involved in producing a number of the illustrations in the Liber chronicarum. The thirty-two cityscapes which would be used often in later times as examples deserve a special mention. How the work came into being can largely be ascertained on the basis of a number of preserved documents and designs.

Origin

In the Utrecht copy, the following text has been written in calligraphy and stuck onto the page preceding the printed text: 'Registrum huius operis libri cronicarum cum figuris et ymaginibus ab inicio mundi, quod dominus anthonius van winsen canonicus ecclesie sancti petri traiectensis fecit preparari et illuminari anno 1500.' This translates as: 'The title of this work: Book of the chronicles, with plates and portraits from the beginning of the world onwards, the production and colouring of which was commissioned by Mr Anthonius van Winsen, canon of Saint Peter’s Church in Utrecht, in 1500.'

The left-hand side of the coat of arms on folio Iv is the arms of the Van Winsen family. The following is handwritten on the last page: 'Arnoldus a Zuijlen a Nijevelt. 1634 Assumburgh. Hemskerck, 1 november.' The Assumburgh or Assemberg mansion was situated north-east of Heemskerk.

In 1961, Utrecht University Library acquired the Liber chronicarum in an exchange. The book is bound in modern cardboard-plate calfskin with blind stamping.

Further reading

Bibliographic references

  • HC* 14508, BMC II 437, Goff S-307, IBH 3039, IBP 4941, IDL 4060, IGI 8828, Polain (B) 3469.
1493
Atlas
LKB (ed. MvE), 2011
Poland in the Liber Chronicarum, Hartmann Schedel, 1493
Bird's-eye view of Portugal in the Liber Chronicarum, Hartmann Schedel, 1493

Liber chronicarum (MAG: S fol 1545 Lk (Rariora)); Neurenberg : Anton Koberger, 1493