Networks Nuremberg & Tracing Early Dürer

This week, our post comes from Volunteer Jessica Macaulay and is about some of the exciting finds she has discovered while working on enriching the metadata in our Image Collection online . As this is Jessica’s last week, we would like to thank her for all her wonderful work & wish her all the best for her return to Canada.

 When I first set out to write a blog post for the DIU I had originally wanted to focus on those works closely connected to Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the famous Renaissance artist out of Nuremberg. What I came across instead was collection of incunabula that represented the veritable network of key figures that were highly influential in Dürer’s early development. The most notable of these connections is that of Anton Koberger (1445-1513), who was not only Dürer’s godfather, but helped to arrange Dürer’s apprenticeship in the workshop of Michael Wolgemut (1434-1519).


The University of Edinburgh has a surprisingly large and varied collection of Koberger’s books shared between the CRC and New College Library. These collections include three different printings of Koberger’s Latin bible, and a copy of the stunning 1483 German bible (Inc.45.2)  which reused 82 of the 109 woodcuts used by Henrich Quentell in his 1478 Low German bible printed in Cologne. Although these woodcuts predate Dürer’s apprenticeship, elements of their composition can be seen in his later works.

 Another major work produced by Koberger, and perhaps the one that he is the most famous for, is that of the Nuremberg Chronicle. It was to my great delight to discover that the University ownsnot one of these books, but four, in a range of quality and finish (Inc.48.1/2 and Inc.48*). It is a rare opportunity to have so many of the same rare book at hand for ready comparison including one that has been stripped down that shows the book anatomically.

 Michael Wolgemut and his stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff are known to have been responsible for woodcuts illustrating the Nuremberg Chronicle, and there has been considerable debate over whether or not Dürer is also responsible for some of the compositions. While many scholars suggest that the contract between Koberger and the patrons signed in 1491 was well after Dürer completed his apprenticeship at Wolgemut’s workshop, Loura Brooks reminds us that drawings for the woodblocks began in 1484. Dürer would have been apprenticing in Wolgemut’s workshop during this time and did contribute to the compositions, an account of which can be found in The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle by Adrian Wilson.

 Another item that I came across with interesting ties to Dürer is Sebastian Brant’s Stultifera Navis or the Latin translation of Ship of Fools (Inc.13) . While the copy owned by the University of Edinburgh is a pirated copy printed by Johann Reinhard of Grüningen in 1497, it demonstrates the vast popularity of printed texts and particularly those with illustrations. Grüninger’s edition was published very shortly after one of Brant’s official editions, and within a few months Brant has printed another version with an additional section condemning pirated texts. Dürer worked closely with Brant to design the woodcuts accompanying the text, and nearly two thirds of the woodcuts in the first edition are attributed to Dürer.  Printed at Strassburg by Johann Reinhard of Gruningen in 1497.

 Though there is very little of Dürer’s actual work housed in the collections there is much that informs on the network that helped to shape Dürer’s career, evidence of his early influences, and many exemplars from those that he worked with later in his career. Whether looking at Koberger’s bibles, the Nuremberg Chronicle, or Ship of Fools there are plenty of opportunities for new and exciting research.

 Many thanks to Loura Brooks for fielding my many questions.

Jessica Macaulay

One Comment

  1. Garner said:

    UE have really great collection. Thanks to Jessica she discovered a great collection.

    September 2, 2014

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