The Nuremberg Chronicle: A Pictorial History of the World

Schedel, Hartmann. 1440-1514. Liber chronicarum. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12th July 1493. © Bonhams

When Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type to Europe in 1439, he sparked a revolution in the dissemination of knowledge that changed the world for ever. Books printed in the period from then until around 1500 are known as incunabula. Among the most famous of these – and certainly the most lavishly illustrated and beautiful – is the Nuremberg Chronicle, an extremely rare first edition of which, hand colored by contemporary artists and bound for the publisher in Nuremberg by the Weltchronik-Meister, leads Bonhams Fine Books & Manuscripts sale in New York on Friday 11 December. It is estimated at $200,000-300,000.

A pictorial history of the world, the Nuremberg Chronicle was written over several years by the doctor and book collector Hartmann Schedel, who was commissioned by two Nuremberg merchants. It was originally published in Latin in an edition of around 1400-1500, of which 400 are thought to have survived. It came in two formats; unbound and uncolored and, at a considerably higher price, hand-colored and bound – this copy is hand-colored and bound in the original first binding from the Nuremberg Weltchronik-Meister.

The 29 large double-page city views, many illustrated for the first time, are accurate in depicting particular, distinguished, features of each city. In addition it includes many details of 15th-century daily life: carpenters with their tools, astronomers and their instruments, archers, bridges, derricks, dishes, furniture, windmills, ships, beds, houses, fortifications, weapons, tents, wharves, ferries, books, drawing materials, dogs, horses, and other animals, as well as costumes.

Bonhams Director of Fine Books in New York, Ian Ehling, said: “It is impossible to exaggerate the significance of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Magisterial in its scope and ambition, it was the first printed work to integrate text and illustrations in a truly successful and effective way. First editions of the Chronicle in their original binding with contemporary hand-colored illustrations very rarely appear on the open market. This wonderful copy is already exciting much interest among collectors.”


Other Things You Might Be Interested in:

The upcoming auction includes countless other beautiful and rare manuscripts, among them by Charles Dickens and St Augustine of Hippo. Check them out here.

A fully digitalized copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle is available at World Digital Library.

Ursula Kampmann has written about the “Reformation Chronicle”, another chronicle containing numerous detailed woodcut illustrations here.

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