The second half of the 15th century marked, with the experience of Gutenberg, a revolutionary period in the world of publishing. Between 1456 and 1500 – the period of the first printed books, known as incunabula – the new profession of printer, publisher, book dealer experienced an extraordinary development and, from its roots in Germany, spread quickly around the whole of Europe.
In this innovative context, the World Chronicle (Liber Chronicarum in the first latin version, Weltchronik in German) was deemed to be the greatest illustrated work of the age of incunabulum and is regarded as being the most important document of the development of humanism on a European scale. In order to compete with illuminated manuscripts, the World Chronicle was illustrated with as many as 1809 xylographies and some editions, which were reserved for the most hard-to-please collectors, were entirely hand-painted. A good 645 original woodcuts were used, commonly repeated over some pages with different functions and captions, as was the practice in xylographic books.
The Liber Chronicarum was conceived as being a project to spread Italian humanistic knowledge across both Germany and Europe and was considered to be an exceptional historical, religious and geographical encyclopedia for many years to come, as well as being an excellent pool of book illustrations.
Its author, Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg 1440-1514) was a physician, scholar and collector of historical documents; his idea to translate all human knowledge into literature was only possible thanks to the organisational expertise of the publisher Anton Koberger, who engaged the famous artists and xylographers Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Peydenwurff (the masters of Albrecht Durer) as well as other important figures such as the humanist Sebald Schreyer, the physician Hieronymus Munzer, Georg Alt and the historian Konrad Celtis.
The success of the edition was overwhelming. Over the relatively short period of 6 months, Koberger first published the latin version and then straight afterwards the German version. All court and university libraries, not to mention the first bibliophiles were keen to own a copy of this magnificent work. To satisfy all requests, Koberger even set up a postal service that allowed him to deliver his books to anywhere in Europe within 15 days of ordering! Furthermore, in order to accomodate the most demanding collectors, he was able to supply the books with hand-painted illustrations, as was the case with precious manuscripts. This limited number of editions sold out immediately and, unfortunately, today almost none have survived.
Among integral copies that have survived the course of time, the Nuremberg version and, for its high levels of quality and conservation, also the incunabulum of the Weimar Library, deserve a mention. The Nuremberg Chronicle reproduction has been allowed for this facsimile edition, in a limited print-run of 800 individually numbered copies, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the most famous and exacting incunabulum in the history of printing.