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Chronicle of the World 1493: The Complete and Annotated Nuremberg Chronicle. (Reviews).

Hartmann Schedel, Chronicle of the World 1493: The Complete and Annotated Nuremberg Chronicle

Introduction and Appendix by Stephan Fussel. Cologne: Taschen, 2001. Hardcover covered in padded velvet. 680 pp. + 730 illustrations. $60. ISBN: 3-8228-1295-1.

Christoph Reske, Die Produktion der Schedelschen Weltchronik in Nurnberg: The Production of Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle

(Mainzer Studien zur Buchwissenschaft, 10.) Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000. xvii + 203 pp. + CD-Rom. 64 EUR ISBN: 2-447-04296-6.

The Chronicle of the World better known in the English-speaking world as The Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel is one of the most important and most beautiful books of the incunabula era. Both the Latin version of July 1493 and the German version of December of the same year were printed in the offices of Anton Koberger who owned one of Europe's largest printing houses of the period. The Chronicle charts the known history of the world from the creation of the world to Schedel's present. Following medieval traditions, the author divides the history of mankind into seven ages: the first age extended from the creation to the deluge; the second from the deluge to the birth of Abraham, the third to the kingdom of David; the fourth covered the period from the reign of David to the Babylonian Captivity; the fifth to the birth of Christ; the sixth (by far the longest) from the birth of Christ to the present; and the seventh dealt with the arrival of the Antichrist and the Last Judgment. The fame of the Nurembe rg Chronicle also rests on its splendid and numerous woodcuts, especially the hundreds of city views. With its 652 woodcuts, many of which are repeated so that each edition has more than 1,800 pictures, it contained more illustrations than any previous book.

Today, copies of the original Chronicle fetch up to $400,000 at auctions. Previous facsimiles of the hand-colored version have sold for hundreds of dollars. Bringing a facsimile of a hand-colored copy of the Chronicle on the market for a sensational $60, the price of a scholarly monograph, must therefore be hailed as a major publishing event. Based on the German, hand-colored copy in the Herxogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek in Weimar, the Taschen reprint of the Nuremberg Chronicle, in its original size, is a magnificent book.

There is of course always the danger that such a beautiful book will end up on a coffee table: much admired but unread. To counter that danger, Stephan Fussel, the director of the Institute of the History of the Book at the Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz and an expert on early printing, was asked to write both an Introduction and an extensive Commentary (called "Appendix") for the facsimile edition. Both are meant to make more accessible to modern readers this late fifteenth-century book and invite them to explore Schedel's world for themselves. Both Introduction and Commentary, like the facsimile itself, are printed on high-quality paper and are interspersed with numerous color illustrations.

In his masterly Introduction, Fussel sketches the historical background and context necessary for an understanding of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Drawing on his own work, as well as the recent studies by Christoph Reske (see below) and other scholars, Fussel points out that the production of this work was really a community project of several Nurembergers: Hartmann Schedel was the author or rather compiler of the book; Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister assumed the financial risk for the project; Georg Alt translated Schedel's Latin into German for the German edition; Michael Wolgemut, Durer teacher, and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, were entrusted with the task of illustrating the chronicle; and Anton Koberger, whose printing offices ran 24 presses and employed around 100 typesetters, was responsible for the actual printing. Fussel also explores Durer's possible contribution to the woodcuts, compares the manuscript layouts with the printed version, reviews the book sales and final settlement, discusses the Aug sburg reprint of 1496 by Johann Shoonsperger, and surveys the continued influence of the chronicle.

While the Introduction provides information about the historical context, the 40-page Commentary concentrates on the book itself. It is a combination of a paraphrase, analysis, and interpretation. Given the enormous size of the chronicle, it has to be selective. In general, Fussel follows Schedel's chronology, pointing out sources, establishing links and interpreting the woodcuts. In doing so he skillfully integrates the findings of other scholars, literary historians, book historians and art. historians. Fussel leaves the strictly chronological sequence of his commentary only in his discussion of the thumbnail sketches, both literary and pictorial, of famous physicians and writers, which Schedel, himself a physician and a writer, interspersed throughout the work.

While the facsimile of the Nuremberg Chronicle is targeted at a general and international public (in addition to the edition under review which has Fussel's text in English, separate facsimile editions of the Chronicle have been published with Fussel's text in German and French), Christoph Reske's study, Die Produktion der Schedelschen Weltchronik, is clearly aimed at specialized scholars of the incunabula era. Originally a dissertation done at the University of Mainz, it is written in German, but the relevant parts have been translated into English. Together they account for about 200 pages. In addition a CD-Rom, inserted into the book (and both PC and Macintosh readable), contains not only the entire text of the book but also some 460 additional pages of documentation. Thus the CD-Rom provides information which, if printed in a book, would have made this prohibitively expensive.

Reske is not interested in an exploration of the sources (this was done thoroughly by Michael Haitz in 1899), nor in a literary analysis (considerable work has been done on that as well) nor in an appreciation of the over 1800 woodcuts (a favorite field of American scholarship). Instead he asks the question: "What was the work process involved in producing an illustrated incunabulum in a large printing house?" (124). Using the methods of the "analytical bibliography" (German: analytische Druckforschung,") a discipline that is concerned with books as physical objects, Reske describes from as many perspectives as possible the production process involved in such a large-scale project. In doing that he is very much aided by the fortunate survival of the hand-written "models" (Fussel calls them "layouts"; in German "Vorlagen") of both the Latin and the German versions. By comparing the actual prints with these manuscripts that contain not only the entire texts but also sketches of the woodcuts as well as their int ended placement in the printed text, Reske gains insights into the complicated transmission process from manuscript to print. But in order to reconstruct the entire production process as fully as possible, Reske also draws on numerous other documents, such as the contracts between the contributing parties. He also analyzes the working conditions of the typesetters and the reports of contemporaries on the work. The bulk of Reske's study, however, deals with the two versions of the Nuremberg Chronicle as a physical object. In great detail, Reske examines the quire schemata, watermarks, paper thickness, and the layout schemata; he counts and measures the woodcuts, sorts out the various scribes; investigates the settings and determines the various types used and calculates the press runs. All this is done with exemplary thoroughness and supported by ample documentation.

Meticulous and comprehensive, Reske's book represents a pioneering work. As far as the production process of the Nuremberg Chronicle is concerned, it is clearly the definitive study. But beyond that, his work gives us general insights into the high level of organization necessary for the printing and production of incunabula at the end of the fifteenth century.
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Author:Bernstein, Eckhard
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
Words:1258
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