German Publisher and Printer
One of the outstanding publishers of the fifteenth century was Anton Koberger, reputed to have operated 24 presses, employed 100 printers and craftsmen, and had agencies in most of the principal cities of Europe for the sale of his books and for manuscript acquisition. Before his death in 1513, Koberger's presses issued 236 products, most of which were theological in character, which is logical considering that reading skills were not commonplace in his lifetime and theologians were the scholars of his time. (Reportedly, his only oversight was in turning down Martin Luther's request to become his publisher.) Three of the most influential illustrated early German printed books were produced by the Koberger press—in 1488 the Lives of the Saints by Voragine; in 1491 the Schatzbehalter, a religious treatise by Stefan Fridolin; and in 1493 his most famous work, the Weltchronik, also known as the Liber Chronicarum and, more commonly, as the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel.
Born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1445 to an old Nuremberg family of craftsmen, Anton Koberger's early life is shrouded in mystery, but it is known that he began his career as a goldsmith before becoming a printer. The first dated book produced by his press was Alcinous's Disciplinarum Platonis Epitome, printed in November 1472. This early work was indicative of many of Koberger's books for it contained nearly 100 illustrations. In the early days of his press, Koberger had the foresight to enlist the services of two distinguished artists, Michel Wolgemuth, master and teacher of Albrecht Dürer (who was Koberger's godson), and Wolgemuth's stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff. Their woodcut illustrations were used in many of Koberger's publications.
The scope of the works published by Koberger is phenomenal considering the technical complexities of printing in the late fifteenth century. In 1474 Koberger published Pantheologia by Rainerius de Pisi, which contained 865 leaves. In 1481 he surpassed that total with the Postillae super Biblia by Nicolaus de Lyra, a two-volume set that included 939 leaves. Koberger also made good use of ornament and illustration, including the 1491 religious treatise entitled Schatzbehalter der wahren Reichtümer des Heils, which contained 96 full-page illustrations. His firm published an illustrated German bible in 1483 along with numerous editions of Bibles in Latin (the first in 1475).
Of the hundreds of books and products published by Anton Koberger, none are more famous than the Nuremberg Chronicle, published in Latin and German versions in July and December 1493, respectively. A monument of book illustration, the Chronicle used 645 different woodcut illustrations, some used more than once (up to ten times for some of the ornaments) to produce 1,809 total illustrations depicting the full pictorial life of Christ, episodes in the lives of many saints, portraits of prophets, kings, emperors, popes, heroes and great men of history, genealogical tress, nature's wonders, maps, and panoramic views of cities. The Chronicle was a compendium of history (the text of the book is a full chronicle of the world's history from its creation up to the year the book was printed), geography, and the natural wonders of the world. The German translation by Georg Alt was published in a shorter version of only 297 leaves, but the Latin edition contained over 326 leaves and 596 pages. There was also a limited edition with hand-colored illustrations.
Koberger's presses and his agencies in cities such as Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Milan, Como, Florence, Venice, Augsburg, Leipzig, Prague, and Budapest thrived during his lifetime, when more than 230 publications were issued. Although it is alleged that he fathered no less than 25 children, Koberger was succeeded in business by his nephew (two sons later came into control of the publishing house). None of his family was successful in continuing his publishing and printing company, and it was no longer in business after 1540.
ANN T. MARSDEN