Nuremberg Chronicles or Liber chronicarum (1493, Nuremberg, Germany)
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin #booksandmuseums series
The Liber chronicarum, or Nuremberg Chronicles, was one of the monumental achievements of fifteenth-century printing and is second in fame only to Gutenberg’s Bible.
It was printed by Anton Koberger and illustrated by such master artists as Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519) and William Pleydenwurff (d. 1494). and the young Albrecht Dürer who executed some of the minor woodcuts.
The Chronicles were written by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514) and are in effect the complete history of the world from the biblical stories of the creation up to contemporary events of the late fifteenth century.
Some of the 1,809 woodcuts illustrate natural events such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions while others try to depict the ‘monstrous races’ of Man. The images of the sciapods, a creature with one leg and one large foot; the acephaloids, with no head and facial features in the chest; the cynocephaloids, or dog-headed people, can be traced back to descriptions found in Pliny’s Natural History and their images became a staple of Renaissance cosmographical literature. Here, the empirical and the literally incredible survive side by side in the same text.
The Chester Beatty Library was one of the venues for Museum Next in Dublin 18-20 April 2016.
Chester Beatty first found fame as a book collector of Western illuminated manuscripts. The collection began modestly in the years preceding his move to London in 1913, but with the help of expert advice, by the end of the 1920s it had grown to become one of the most important collections in England.
Beatty’s preference for illuminated manuscripts can be deduced from archival sources, as mention is made of French Books of Hours, five of which were in his possession by 1910.
After moving to London, Beatty began buying much earlier manuscripts from the Carolingian and Ottonian periods, in
cluding manuscripts which were not illuminated but were highly important on palaeographical grounds.
By the end of the 1920s, he had assembled a collection of well over 200 European manuscripts which, together with his other collections, made him the most important book collector in England in the mid-twentieth century.
While over half of the European manuscripts Beatty collected throughout his lifetime were bequeathed to his personal estate, the Library retains some fine and important examples of beautifully illuminated medieval texts.