Hartman Schedel, Liber chronicarum. Nuremberg, 1493

Hartmann Schedel (German, 1440–1514)

Liber chronicarum. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493

Woodcut and letterpress printing on paper

Bridwell Library Special Collections, The Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Bible Collection, Prothro B-30.


Listen to R. Arvid Nelsen, Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Bridwell Library discuss this work (2:33 minutes)

Audio Transcript

Hartmann Schedel (German, 1440–1514)

Liber chronicarum. Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 12 July 1493

Woodcut and letterpress printing on paper

Bridwell Library Special Collections, The Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Bible Collection, Prothro B-30.


By R. Arvid Nelsen, Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Bridwell Library


Here we see two pages found near the beginning of Hartmann Schedel’s Liber Chronicarum, each bearing a woodcut illustration. The image on the left depicts the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, while that on the facing page dramatizes the couple’s temptation and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The Liber Chronicarum is, perhaps, best known as the first book to contain extensive printed illustrations and as the most heavily illustrated book of the fifteenth century, featuring more than 1800 woodcuts. It was printed in 1493 in the German city of Nuremberg, which is the source of the book’s popular title in English: the Nuremberg Chronicle.


The earliest printed books copied much of the appearance of the handwritten manuscripts that preceded them. Scribes who wrote out manuscript text would leave spaces for others to fill-in with elaborate initials, colorful flourishes, and miniature painted scenes. Similarly, early printers would leave spaces in the text for others to fill with colorful enhancements by hand. This method, however, was expensive, time-consuming, and incapable of ensuring consistent results across multiple copies. The book that Schedel had in mind required a different approach.


Deftly weaving biblical stories with history, geography, and folklore, the Nuremberg Chronicle presents a history of the world from Creation up to the time of its printing, employing images to tell this complex story in an engaging and accessible manner. In addition to Biblical stories, such as those seen here, the book features extensive maps, cityscapes, portraits, and family trees. Woodcuts were used to achieve this complex relationship of words and pictures, because woodcut and letterpress type are both forms of relief printing, in which a raised surface conveys ink to the page. Wood blocks were locked into the same form containing the type, allowing everything to be inked and printed at once.


Owners of these volumes commonly hired artists in order to color these images, so many copies today still bear some unique handiwork. The copy displayed here, a gift of Elizabeth Perkins Prothro and one of three copies held by Bridwell Library, includes hand-coloring by an illuminator hired by the book’s sixteenth-century owners, Hartmut XIII von Kronberg and his wife, Margarete Brendel von Homburg.