We know a lot about The Nuremberg Chronicle – it’s one of the world’s best documented incunabula (books printed before 1500). The book offers a universal history of the Christian world from the beginning of time until 1490. It was written by Hartmann Schedel, illustrated and designed by Michael Wohlgemut (who taught the great Albrecht Dürer) and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, and printed by Anton Koberger (Albrecht Dürer’s godfather). It has 1809 woodcuts cut from 645 blocks, and the University of Cambridge deems it “the most extensively illustrated book of the 15th century.”
As for the image above, the Cambridge University Library Incunabula Project Blog notes that “the Nativity scene, showing Baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph, with an ox and an ass in the background, has inspired artists for many centuries.” That’s it. That’s all they say about the image. But even after searching my own University Library’s catalogue, I couldn’t find any more information on this picture. The only thing that kept coming up in my searches was Albrecht Dürer.
Because I know almost nothing about The Nuremberg Chronicle, and even less about German art, this lack of analysis leaves me yearning to find out more about what makes this image so darn inspirational. Because, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s that great; I like the colours, but I don’t like the drawing. I feel like, as is the case with most things, if I had a better understanding of the art – and of the book more generally – I could appreciate it more.