News & Notes

This just in: Special Collections acquires monumental work of medieval printing

Posted in Announcements, Resources, Special Collections Tagged with:

The Nuremberg Chronicle, printed by Anton Koberger in Nuremberg Germany in 1493.

While LSU Football was winding its way through a successful 2020 postseason, Special Collections was enjoying a big win of its own, adding a copy of the large, impressive Nuremberg Chronicle to our rare book collections. Published in 1493 in the German city that gives it its common name, this book represents the height of fifteenth-century book illustration and design. Incorporating over 1800 woodblock illustrations of people, biblical scenes, maps, and cityscapes, it is arguably second in importance only to the Gutenberg Bible in the pantheon of early European printing.

Making this acquisition possible was a substantial grant from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation, which supports significant institutional purchases of rare books, manuscripts, and bookbindings. The monies from the Breslauer Foundation were supplemented by several generous donations from friends of the library, along with the library’s Hauer Rare Book Endowment. Unable to travel to New York City ourselves, we worked through Henry Wessells, agent at James Cummins Bookseller, to place a bid on the book at Swann Auction Galleries‘ December 17thauction, “Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books.” After more than a little fingernail-chewing while the auction drew on, we eventually received word that our bid had come out on top – and immediately began to make space for the book in our stacks!

The publication of the Nuremberg Chronicle, also known in Latin as the Liber Chronicarum,was a watershed moment in the production of European printed books. In the first few years after Johann Gutenberg developed a method of printing using movable metal type in Germany in the middle of the fifteenth century, production runs by printers were small and the books themselves largely resembled their painstakingly handwritten and hand-illustrated brethren.

There is only one colored illustration in our copy of the book, this map of Germany and northern Europe that comes at the very end of the book.

These books printed in Europe before 1501 are known as ‘‘incunables’ or ‘incunabula’ (from the Latin meaning ‘swaddling clothes’ or ‘cradle,’ as in, ‘printed books in their infancy’) because of the visual similarities they have with manuscripts. They are studied for how they materialize this transition from handwritten to printed books, such as the incorporation of woodblock illustrations with handset type.

The printer Anton Koberger was at the forefront of these innovations and drew upon them to prepare the ambitious Chronicle, with its then-unheard-of print run of roughly 1,500 copies. The result is a stunning product, with illustrations of figures, cityscapes, and Biblical scenes twisting through heavy lines of Gothic type, and spilling from one page to the next in a manner bespeaking a level of planning and document design never before seen in Europe. The material product also represents a significant industrial achievement, as the book’s ambitious print run taxed local supplies of raw materials and forced Koberger to add more presses to his enterprise, eventually resulting in a total of twenty-four – a staggering number requiring some one hundred workers when running at full strength. The book is impressively large (almost eighteen inches by a foot in size and just shy of twenty pounds), but it looms even larger when considering its place as the final product of a network of artists, printers, papermakers, and book binders.

The fall of Babylon, under the watchful eyes of historical kings.

Koberger was the project’s technician, but the woodcut illustrations – the book’s hallmark – were the product of the workshop of Michael Wolgemut, Nuremberg’s leading artist. Wolgemut had in his employ the young Albrecht Dürer, Koberger’s godson, who later established himself as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance of the 16thcentury. The book’s 1,800 illustrations bear scrutiny not only for evidence of Dürer’s humanist hand, lighter and more skilled than that his medieval predecessors, but also because of their economy: roughly 6-700 woodblocks were used throughout the book, meaning that individual blocks were used on average more than three times. Historical and mythical figures were interchanged for one another, some cityscapes stand in for others unchanged, and depictions of church councils are almost gleefully repeated (as if to say that if you’ve seen one committee meeting, you’ve seen ‘em all).

Taken as a whole, however, these technical shortcuts fade in importance, as the sheer number of the illustrations and their skilled placement on the page draw viewers into the book’s rich depiction of its late-medieval world. This is not a book that requires subtle erudition to appreciate, but it instead captivates the seasoned scholar and naïve bibliophile alike.

The destruction of Jerusalem.

The text of the Nuremberg Chronicle is almost as conventional as its production was innovative. Written by doctor and scholar Hartmann Schedel, it is a history of the world from its biblical past down to the present. It follows the orthodox Christian method for such histories, dividing the past into six ages, beginning with the creation of Adam and ending with speculation on the events of the Book of Revelation in a final, seventh age to come. Schedel lifted most of his work directly from books found in his vast personal library, though he did emphasize the role of Nuremberg and Germany within world history, correcting what he saw as a scholarly bias against his homeland.

Schedel was educated in the Italian city of Padua, and his work is important insofar as it demonstrates Schedel’s importation of Renaissance learning from Italy into Germany, though it might be said that the text itself is better viewed as a historical artifact rather than actual history.

The opening pages of the book describe the creation of the world, as depicted in Genesis. In this detail God is shown creating Eve from Adam’s rib.

Schedel wrote in Latin, as was the scholarly custom, but a German translation by George Alt followed later in the same year, evidence of a desire to spread knowledge in the vernacular. This version was similarly illustrated using the same woodblocks, and was also popular, though it was printed in an edition roughly half the size of the Latin one. Other pirated editions followed, attesting to the success of Koberger’s original, and thereafter illustrated books measured themselves against this finely crafted archetype. (On the other hand, the book’s text wasn’t fully translated into English until 2011, evidence of its underwhelming content.)

The copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle acquired by Special Collections is in enviable condition, and while it doesn’t have the truly exquisite hand-coloring found on some copies, it is complete – no small feat for a book that often has its illustrations cut out and sold individually – and it boasts a remarkable contemporary binding.

Hand-tooled leather over wooden boards with metal fixtures — what’s not to love?

There are marks of use throughout the volume, particularly on pages turned by less-than-archivally-clean hands, and a number of fine repairs are also evident, but generally the book is in spectacular usable form, ready for new generations of readers.

It’s taken this copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle five hundred years to make it to Baton Rouge, but now that it’s here it is eager to make its debut on the bayou. Once the book has been carefully cataloged and housed, it will be available for any patrons in our reading room – come for the woodblock maps and whimsical illustrations, stay for the impressive medieval binding!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Curator of books and head of instruction in Special Collections.

Posted in Announcements, Resources, Special Collections Tagged with:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Resources & services available during COVID closures

Library buildings remain closed, but extensive services and resources are available.

Recent faculty publications

2020 

Blessinger, Kelly and Dave Comeaux. “User Experience with a New Public Interface for an Integrated Library System,” Information Technology in Libraries. Volume 39, Issue 1. https://doi.org/10.6017/ital.v39i1.11607

Lounsberry, Megan. “Troubleshooting electronic resources from an ILL perspective,” Technical Services Quarterly, Volume 37, Issue 3.
https://doi.org/10.1080/07317131.2020.1768699

McDonald, Ebony. “2020 Regina Medal Recipient Christopher Paul Curtis,” Catholic Library World. 

Miles, John David.  “James Harrison and the Tensas Troubles of 1878,” Civil War Book Review: Volume 22, Issue 1 (Winter 2020).

2019

Batte, Elizabeth; David Dunaway; Emily Frank; Sarah Mazur; and Laurie Phillips. “LOUIS Membership with Open Textbook Network Brings Incentive for Faculty OER Advocacy on Campuses,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Comeaux, Dave;  Emily Frank; and Mike Waugh. “Supporting Student Success: E-books as Course Materials,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Dunaway, David. “Bibliometrics for Faculty Evaluation: A Stastical Comparison of h-indexes Generated Using Google Scholar and Web of Science Data,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Haber, Natalie, Melissa Cornwell, & Andrea Hebert. “This worksheet works: Making the DLS Standards work for you,” College & Research Libraries News. 

Hawk, Amanda K. “Implementing Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries,” Proceedings of the 2018 Library Assessment Conference, (Association of Research Libraries, 2019): 836-843. https://doi.org/10.29242/lac.2018.78

Hebert, Andrea and Jodi Duet. “’I’m Really Confident I Can Find the Exact IKEA Pillow’: A Qualitative Look at the Search Self-Efficacy of Graduating MLIS Students,” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639269.2017.1690891.

Lounsberry, Megan. “No Textbooks Allowed! (Unless You’re a Graduate Student!): Louisiana State University Pilots an ILL Textbook Service. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 28 (3/4): 61–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/1072303X.2019.1676862

Miles, John David. “Colfax, Kate Grant, and the Domestication of Reconstruction’s Violence,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 2 (Spring 2019).

Miles, John David. “The Loyalty of West Point’s Graduates Debated,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 1 (Winter 2019).

Miller, Marty. “Curriculum, Departmental, and Faculty Mapping in the Visual Arts Department,” Art Documentation, Volume 38, Issue 1 (March 2019): 159-173.

Morgan, Randa L. “Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together.” Catholic Library World, Volume 90, Issue 1 (September 2019): 68.

O’Neill, Brittany; and  Allen LeBlanc. “Evaluating Trends in Instruction Scheduling Management: A Survey of Louisiana’s Academic Libraries,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “The Moon Belongs to Everyone:  ResearchGate and Subscription Databases Compared.”  Louisiana Libraries. Volume 81, Issue 3, (Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “Information Literacy through Service Learning” in Library Collaborations and Community Partnerships: Enhancing Health and Quality of Life.  Fannie M. Cox, Henry R. Cunningham, and Vickie Hines-Martin, eds., 2019.

Simms, Sarah; Hayley Johnson. “Hidden in Plain Sight,” 64 Parishes (Magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities). Issue 4 (Summer 2019). https://64parishes.org/hidden-in-plain-sight.

Simms, S., & Johnson, H. Subtle activism: Using the library exhibit as a social justice tool, Alexandria, Volume 29, Issue 1-2 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1177/0955749019876119.

Ziegler, Scott; and Cara Key. “More Than a Pretty Interface: The Louisiana Digital Library as a Data Hub,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Ziegler, S.L. “Digitization Selection Criteria as Anti-Racist Action,” Code4Lib Journal. Issue 45 (2019). https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/14667

Ziegler, S.L. and Steve Martin. “A Hidden Gem Becomes a Fertile Mining Ground: Historic Prison Admission Books and Data-Driven Digital Projects,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Volume 143, Issue 3 (October 2019): 363-373.

2018

Hebert, Andrea. “Information Literacy Skills of First-Year Library and Information Science Graduate Students: An Exploratory Study,” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Volume 13, Issue 3 (September 2018).

Miller, Marty. “Sacred vs. Profane in The Great War: A Neutral’s Indictment: Louis Raemaekers’s Use of Religious Imagery in Adoration of the Magi and Our Lady of Antwerp.” Catholic Library World, vol. 89, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp. 20–32.

Rasmussen, Hans. “The Life and Death of Raquette in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans,” Sport History Review 49 (May 2018): 23-38.

Wilder, Stanley. “Delayed Retirements and the Youth Movement among ARL Library Professionals,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Hiring and Staffing Trends in ARL Libraries,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Selected Demographic Trends in the ARL Professional Population,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Ziegler, Scott; and Richard Shrake. “PAL: Toward a Recommendation System for Manuscripts,” Information Technology and Libraries, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2018).

2017

Caminita, C.; Cook, M.; and Paster, A. (2017). Thirty years of preserving, discovering, and accessing U.S. agricultural information: Past progress and current challenges. Library Trends, 65(3), 293-315.

Dauterive, Sarah; John Bourgeois; and Sarah Simms. “How little is too little? An examination of information literacy instruction duration for freshmen.” Journal of Information Literacy, 11.1 (2017): 204-219.

Fontenot, Mitch; Emily Frank; and Andrea Hebert. “Going Where the Users Are: Three Variations on a Theme,” Louisiana Libraries, Fall 2017.

Hawk, Amanda K. “Highflying Crowdfunding: Creating a Successful Partnership with a Campus Donor,” Archival Outlook, July/August 2017: 12-13, 19. https://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=422988.

Hebert, Andrea; and Marty Miller. (2017). Using FSA-OWI photographs to teach information and visual literacy. Louisiana Libraries, 79(3), 19–25.

Johnson, Hayley. “#NoDAPL: Social Media, Empowerment, and Civic Participation at Standing Rock,” Library Trends, Fall 2017.

More…

Special Collections Hours

Contact Special Collections

Public Services Desk: (225) 578-6544

Reference Desk: (225) 578-6568

Fax: (225) 578-9425

Email: special@lsu.edu

Submit a reference question

RSS Feed RSS - Special Collections Posts