27 September, 2009

Wednesday 16th July 2008, Stadtbibliothek, Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg's Stadtbibliothek (or city library) was established in 1605.  The collection is currently housed within the Pellerhaus, a former patrician family residence, however the collection was only moved after World War II when the reconstruction of Nuremberg began.  Prior to 1945, the collection was kept in a former monastery, both the building and the early collection having been obtained by the council after the Reformation was introduced to Nuremberg in 1525 and the monasteries were dissolved.

Exhibited in the ground floor foyer are examples of the work of Johann Neudörffer the Elder (born 1497), a writing master - famous throughout Germany - who worked in Nuremberg in the early to mid sixteenth century.  What is particularly interesting about Neudörffer and his craft is that he rose to prominence during an age when the demand for written manuscripts had experienced sharp decline.

The invention of the printing press is commonly attributed to the year 1450, with the press being introduced to Nuremberg in 1469.  By the 1470s, the number of hand-written manuscripts in Nuremberg declined rapidly which put a number of "writers" out of work.  As a result, many turned to private tuition.  However, Neudörffer is famous for the "writing handbooks" he produced in the mid sixteenth century, notable in the development of "fracture script" (German cursive script based on early medieval script).

Indeed, the art of writing clearly endured, if not merely for the production of elaborate leading capital letters adorning early printed books.  And in the production of early printed books, few cities could boast a pedigree equal to Nuremberg.  First published in 1493, the Weltchronik (or world chronicle, otherwise known as the Nuremberg Chronicle) was a masterpiece of production, skilfully combining moveable type with specialised woodcuts.  While the Weltchronik marked a revolution in quality printing, it also demonstrated the expert project management of Anton Koberger who - in Nuremberg - went on to establish Europe's largest printing house.

As many as 2500 copies of the Weltchronik are estimated to have been printed, the Latin edition running to 1500 copies with the remainder in German.  Such a publication is certainly worthy of a place in the Stadtbibliothek's rare books room, but due to the importance of the chronicle and the large numbers printed, it is not surprising that copies are to be found as far away as the University of Melbourne.

However, a particular curiosity in the possession of the Stadtbibliothek is a book containing many of the preliminary designs used in the production of the Weltchronik.  One can clearly see a correlation between the book's rough sketches and the printed work, but what is also clear is that much further work would have been necessary for the printer to marry text and image so effectively.  Without doubt, the Weltchronik was a work of much preparation and planning.

Much has been made of the connection between the printing press and the spread of writings such as Martin Luther's ninety-five theses, and so one may conclude that the early introduction of the Reformation into Nuremberg may have in part been influenced by its position as Europe's printing centre.  Certainly the combination of Reformation and printing press was enough to put Nuremberg's monks out of a job, but at the same time providing the Nuremberg public with a library that it still enjoys today.

N.B.  None of the images appearing in this post having anything much to do with the Stadtbibliothek apart from the fact that they're general photographs of Nuremberg.  To see images from the Nuremberg Chronicle, visit the following link:



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