A new exhibition organized by the Vassar College Libraries looks at the rich history of printing in Nuremberg, Germany and the publication of the most extensively illustrated book of its time, The Nuremberg Chronicle.
“Never Before Has Your Like Been Printed”: The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 will be on display in the Thompson Memorial Library from August 27 to December 10. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
This exhibition also serves as a complement to Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475-1540, which will be on view at Vassar’s art museum, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, from September 19-December 14. This show, developed by the National Gallery, is the first U.S. exhibition to explore Augsburg’s artistic achievements in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, which are far less known than achievements in Nuremburg during that period.
The Nuremberg Chronicle is one of the best known of all incunabula -- books printed before 1501. The book was a universal history compiled by the Nuremberg doctor, humanist, and bibliophile Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514). It is one of the most densely illustrated and technically advanced works of early printing, containing – incredibly -- 1,804 woodcuts produced from 652 woodblocks. It is believed that a considerable amount of time, perhaps as much as three years, was spent creating the woodcuts.
This exhibition offers visitors an introduction to the remarkable accomplishment that was The Nuremberg Chronicle, with a focus on its printing. It begins by locating Nuremberg and showing a contemporary view of the city and a map of the neighborhood where several participants in this project lived. It then introduces some of the main figures in this production, notably the printer Anton Koberger (ca. 1445-1513). But the heart of the exhibition is a presentation of the Chronicle itself; made possible because of the Vassar Library’s extensive rare books collection that include three copies of this text. All of Vassar’s leaves are on display, as well as the 1493 Latin edition and the 1497 Augsburg edition. The influence of the Chronicle is shown through a display of 16th century books (one in facsimile), and the exhibition concludes with several works of scholarship on the Chronicle, including a recent English translation of the Latin edition. Items in the exhibition are accompanied by descriptive captions as well as a video demonstrating woodcut techniques.
“It is not hyperbole to say this exhibition focuses on one of the most significant printing projects of the period,” says Ron Patkus, head of special collections at Vassar. “The Nuremberg Chronicle was a complicated endeavor that demanded substantial planning. Every aspect of it was grand in scale from the number of woodcuts included to the amount of paper procured for the initial print run.”
In this sense, Koberger was uniquely qualified to be the printer for this project. He was the most productive printer in Nuremberg at the time, with a large-scale operation of perhaps 18 or more presses running when he was at his peak in the 1490s. Koberger served not only as printer but also as marketing director of sorts, coordinating sales and distribution of the book. In fact, the title of the exhibition is derived from a prospectus that advertised the book to potential buyers.
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