Queen’s Library opens historical Nuremberg Chronicle for students

‘The holy grail of early printed history’ displayed at Douglas Library

The Nuremberg Chronicle on display at Douglas Library. 

On Tuesday, Principal Woolf introduced the 1493 edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle, the library’s newest rare book acquisition. 

The historical text was on display in Douglas Library, at an event hosted by the Queen’s School of Religion at a lecture for its Religion and Art course.Woolf described the book as “the holy grail of early printed history.” 

It’s the most extensively illustrated text from the 15th century. Printed a few decades after the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press, it features text and images that were printed simultaneously. Its content covers both biblical and historical events from the 15th century. 

“This is a particularly impressive item, both in […] world intellectual history [and] in the history of art,” Woolf said. 

Queen’s School of Religion professors Sharday Mosurinjohn and Richard Ascough hosted the lecture component.  

“Because the Nuremberg Chronicle is a text and image hybrid, it calls us to account for the interplay between the visible and readable,” Mosurinjohn said. “You might come to think of the two modes, text and image, in more egalitarian terms, as two sides of same coin.”  

Containing almost 2,000 woodcut prints, the book is filled with illustrations. With images often reused multiple times, the book contains plenty of maps, designs and cityscapes framing the text.

Donated by Seymour Schulich, this copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle is unique for being hand-coloured and annotated. Signed by Joannes Cincinnius and dated in 1521, the colour and scholarly marginal annotations add another layer of depth and expand upon the images and text.

While the book could only be printed in black ink due to the limitations of woodcut printmaking when it was published, years after its original printing, Cincinnius painted the book’s illustrations by hand with water colour. 

“This activity not only changes Johannes’ status from consumer to a sort of collaborator, but also would punctuate his reading,” Ascough said.

While there are many available copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle, few have the breadth and quality of additional content as the copy in Queen’s collection.  The colouring has stood the test of time and the illustrations are still vibrant today. 

Guests at the lecture were allowed to handle the 500-year-old Latin text as well as other books from the collection. Groups of students and faculty members flocked to the large well-preserved chronicle, serving as a landmark example of a primary resource for intersecting research in the field of history, religion and visual art. 

“It’s becoming an artifact that is not only treasured and protected but available for study as an object as a work of literature and a rich cache of visual art,” Mosurinjohn said.

It will be available as a resource for students in the W.D. Jordan Rare Books & Special Collections in Douglas Library. 

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