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Old 17th July 2020, 08:04 PM   #1
shayde78
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Default Nuremberg Chronicle; depictions of edged weapons from the late 15th Century

Hello everyone,

As I have been the beneficiary of a great deal of valuable information by being part of this forum, I have wanted to give something back for quite a while. My own collecting experience is amateurish, at best, so I felt that providing some reference material might be my best contribution.

I finally found time to flip through the extensive work known as the Nuremberg Chronicle. This text was published in 1493 in the city of Nuremberg. Its pages contain over 1800 illustrations made from 645 woodcuts (many images were used more than once). Having gone through these, I have counted over 80 images of swords and other weapons depicted.

Being that these are illustrations of weapons from a very specific date (I'm going off of the version printed in German - so December 1493, to be exact) and from a specific region, I thought there could be some value in posting the images here. If nothing else, it could provide a frame of reference against which to consider other indicators of dates/form/style/etc.

I'll start by posting the first ten, or so, images. If they seem to generate interest, I'll continue with the rest. While they are limited in the fact that they are woodcuts, and there is only so much detail that can be achieved through that medium, one can still discern variations in hilt type, pommels, blade dimensions, etc. Even a nice buckler in there (6th picture below). There are also depictions of how certain weapons were carried, and I am surprised by how prevalent thrusting attacks were depicted throughout, compared to cutting/slashing. This could just be a function of containing the action into a small space, but still seems notable. In a later set (not posted here yet), there is an impressive two-handed sword, with a blunt tip being used in a beheading. Is this an attempt to depict an executioner's sword, or did the tip of the sword simply not get depicted due to the limits of wood block printing?

The first bulk of images portray scenes from the opening chapters of the Bible. I've included one pictures of carpenters working on the Ark to show woodworking axes, and how the artist made these distinct from the axe used by Cain against his unfortunate brother a few pages earlier. If only ebay could so well tell the difference between carpentry tools and actual weapons! Also interesting is the curved sword carried by, I believe it is Abraham, when he scares the heck out of his son. My grasp of Old German isn't great, so please correct me if my context is wrong. Anyway, the curve and orientation of the hilt are 'unique', perhaps to portray the exoticism of the scene. A later set of images depicts an "Ottomanischen" with a clear depicted shamshir hilt.

Anyway, I'll start with these pictures. If the consensus is that I should post more, I'm happy to do so. Just let me know.

-Rob
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Old 17th July 2020, 08:22 PM   #2
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Excelent material indeed, Rob.
Just show us the rest, will you ? .
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Old 17th July 2020, 08:54 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Excelent material indeed, Rob.
Just show us the rest, will you ? .


Glad you like them, Fernando! Per your request - it takes a devil of a time to resize them from my phone to my laptop to here, so bear with me, as they won't all be posted today, but here is another set. I'm doing my best to keep these in the exact order that they appear in the text. I see some posted as strangely rotated - I'll try to keep that from happening as we move forward.

Although there is a statue of a man with a sword in the one picture, I thought the depiction of the ship was the more interesting feature (Columbus had yet to return from the Americas, so this is a momentous time in nautical history, and a nod to Mark who appreciates such things). The image of cavalry carrying polearms as they get swept away by the Red Sea is interesting - you can even see a flail and a fork in the mix. And the sword hanging from King Saul's belt seems of note in a European text of the period.

This will probably be the last set of the day - many more to come, though.
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Old 17th July 2020, 08:57 PM   #4
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This is an outstanding and excellent contribution Shayde!!! and very thoughtful indeed. We have not had significant examples of medieval artwork entered here much since our late friend Matchlock (Michael), who is deeply missed as well as his entries.

It is great to see these 15th century arms and implements depicted in context and seeing how they were used, as you have well noted.

With the 'executioner' swords, they were indeed with 'rebated' tip ends, virtually almost 'squared' as these were not weapons but implements.
They have been discussed here a number of times over the years despite the unpleasantness of the topic, and are interesting just the same.

Never under estimate the importance of any entry you make here! we are all always learning and any question or observation is valuable as it may be the key to previously overlooked clues in a topic. Your entries and comments are always well placed in my opinion, and with these excellent images of this artwork.....Im with Fernando....................'fire at will' !!!!!
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Old 17th July 2020, 09:26 PM   #5
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Thanks Jim. High praise coming from anyone on here, you especially.

Two additional details I wanted to note, since we are seeing artists' renditions, it is important to consider their skills at reproducing what they saw in their day to day lives. The primary artists engaged in producing the illustrations for this Chronicle were Michael Wohlgemut (1434-1519) and his stepson Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (c. 1450-1494). They were well established artists in Nuremberg, producing not just woodcuts, but art in the round, such as sculptures and alters. That said, they had a certain apprentice in their workshop at the time this book was being illustrated, one Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Dürer certainly became the more famous of the bunch, and he illustrated a very well regarded fechtbuch, so he ultimately displayed a good grasp of both weaponry, and how it was to be used. His actual contributions to this text are not fully known, but it is a point worth noting.

You can see some of the reuse of woodblocks - the last two pictures here, the use of the Amazon pictures earlier, the same pole arms being carried by a different group of horsemen. I'm sure these represent early efforts at industrialized efficiency for the printing business in its infancy.

Here's the next set, then, for real, I'm done for the day
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Old 17th July 2020, 11:49 PM   #6
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Interesting pictures 9 and 10 which presumably show Abraham about to sacrifice his child and stopped by an angel. The angel is represented not with wings but in a cloud. It brings to mind the symbol of the swordarm in the cloud which sometimes appears on 17thC blades and banners. It seems to represent the sword of God or possibly Saint Michael.
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Old 18th July 2020, 06:13 AM   #7
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Absolutely incredible reference material from this time period, Shayde! Thank you so very much for posting it! It is not only a monstrously important volume due to its historical reference, but also an incredible work of art! I am fascinated (and, at times, shocked!) by the graphics being depicted. The army riding their horses through a sea of blood on the battlefield certainly sticks with me!
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Old 18th July 2020, 10:27 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
... We have not had significant examples of medieval artwork entered here much since our late friend Matchlock (Michael), who is deeply missed as well as his entries...

First thing that comes to mind !
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Old 18th July 2020, 03:02 PM   #9
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Thank you very much for sharing, it's really interesting!
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Old 18th July 2020, 05:11 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
Absolutely incredible reference material from this time period, Shayde! Thank you so very much for posting it! It is not only a monstrously important volume due to its historical reference, but also an incredible work of art! I am fascinated (and, at times, shocked!) by the graphics being depicted. The army riding their horses through a sea of blood on the battlefield certainly sticks with me!



While I would agree that there is a lot of savagery included there, I think that the 'blood' is probably intended to be the Waves of the Red Sea, closing on the pursuers, after being parted by Moses.

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Old 19th July 2020, 12:15 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mel H
While I would agree that there is a lot of savagery included there, I think that the 'blood' is probably intended to be the Waves of the Red Sea, closing on the pursuers, after being parted by Moses.


Quite right, Mel!
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Old 19th July 2020, 04:20 AM   #12
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Of course!! Forgot my Old Testament for a minute there!
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Old 19th July 2020, 04:24 AM   #13
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Thumbs up Great stuff!

Shayde78,

Excellent source material, and I agree with previous commenters that this is of important historical context. I'm wondering if someone might eventually take your pictures, crop, edit the contrast etc, rotate (as necessary), and put them up as a PDF compendium. Perhaps the owner of this site, Dr Lee Jones, might then include the PDF file on one of the static pages where they could be found easily. Just a thought.

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Old 19th July 2020, 04:43 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mel H
While I would agree that there is a lot of savagery included there, I think that the 'blood' is probably intended to be the Waves of the Red Sea, closing on the pursuers, after being parted by Moses.


The text clarifies things, and it was quite clever of the artist to paint the Red Sea the appropriate color -- after all this work probably had a didactic purpose, to teach Bible stories in a simple and straightforward way in an era in which the level of literacy was not high. In the same way that stained glass windows in churches often presented some of the same narratives in a medium and on a scale more appropriate to large public spaces.

It's fortunate for the arms and armor researchers of later times that the medieval and Renaissance artists were in the habit of depicting Biblical characters in the style of their own eras, rather than going for an archaistic approach. Appropriate, since with the exception of ancient statues, the body of available archaeological material was much more limited than that discovered from the 18th cent. until today. Considering the contemporaneous nature of the depictions, representations in art are an invaluable help to us today in determining a chronological and ofttimes geographical context to surviving objects.
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Old 19th July 2020, 02:08 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Philip
The text clarifies things, and it was quite clever of the artist to paint the Red Sea the appropriate color -- after all this work probably had a didactic purpose, to teach Bible stories in a simple and straightforward way in an era in which the level of literacy was not high. In the same way that stained glass windows in churches often presented some of the same narratives in a medium and on a scale more appropriate to large public spaces.

It's fortunate for the arms and armor researchers of later times that the medieval and Renaissance artists were in the habit of depicting Biblical characters in the style of their own eras, rather than going for an archaistic approach. Appropriate, since with the exception of ancient statues, the body of available archaeological material was much more limited than that discovered from the 18th cent. until today. Considering the contemporaneous nature of the depictions, representations in art are an invaluable help to us today in determining a chronological and ofttimes geographical context to surviving objects.


I learned a little German many years since and can sometimes pick my way through text, I was a little surprised at the clarity / readability of the 15th, C. 'gothic' script used in this document, when compared with the later gothic found in German books of the late 19th, C. which seems to have become deliberately over complicated with the passage of time.

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Old 20th July 2020, 09:02 PM   #16
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Thank you everyone for the positive feedback.

Apologies for the delay, and for the rotated orientation of some of the images. When I post them from my laptop, they appear right-side-up. However, when I look at this thread on my phone or tablet, the orientation is rotated.

I am entirely agreeable to Ian's suggestion, and am happy to send the images to a moderator in PDF format to be posted a single reference. Whoever would like the task, PM me and we can figure it out.

I'll post the remaining images in sets below.

Again, I am keeping these in the order that hey appear in the text. If anyone wants to pull out specific images to discuss, feel free once I'm done posting.

All told, there are about 70 images (my initial count was off as I had some duplicate pictures and some I noticed upon closer inspection were of flag poles, vs. spears, and the like).

Oh, the fifth picture of this post contains an image of fortifications outside the main gate of a city/town. I included because I'm curious what is being represented. Not quite an edged weapon...but related, right?

The ninth picture is the one with the executioner swinging a two-handed sword that may depict a blunt tip. Again, this could just be a fault in the engraving, but the fact that such swords were often rebated caused me to make note of this

The last picture of this set shows utilitarian knives of the era. In researching this image, I believe the saint (sorry, I cut off his full portrait) is one associated with leather workers and bookbinders. Often, this saint was depicted with a flayed hide, sometimes a human hide. Grisly, but such was life at this time.
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Old 20th July 2020, 09:06 PM   #17
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The martyrdom of Saints is a frequent Medieval theme. I know we don't typically discuss some of the more ghastly applications of the arms we collect, but this still has value as source material.
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Old 20th July 2020, 09:10 PM   #18
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The 9th picture of this set is an image that is used again in a picture in the next set that is identified as an 'Ottoman'. The clothing looks like Robin Hood, to me, but the sword at the waist says otherwise.
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Old 20th July 2020, 09:17 PM   #19
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5 images down, we see our Ottoman Robin Hood again. I included the full page of text along with this image in case that holds interest for anyone willing to tackle the Old German translation.
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Old 20th July 2020, 09:22 PM   #20
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And that's all of them!

Again, feel free to pull individual images out to discuss, or otherwise, to use freely to support your research.

For my next project, I have been flipping through a book that contains the complete works of Caravaggio, a Renaissance painter active about 100 years after the work above was published. He has some fine paintings that depict rapiers and daggers of the late 16th early 17th century, as well as detailed depictions of armor. Far fewer images that what I posted in this thread, so I'll likely post them one-by-one, with the date of completion. Be on the look out for that in the near future. Arms/armor aside, seeing the advancement in artistic expression in a mere 100 years is stunning, and parallels nicely with what we see in arms development over the same time period.
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Old 20th July 2020, 11:00 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78
5 images down, we see our Ottoman Robin Hood again. I included the full page of text along with this image in case that holds interest for anyone willing to tackle the Old German translation.


The Ottoman's costume is not entirely Robin Hood-ish. The artist maybe forgot to depict a proper turban, but the long coat is obviously an Ottoman caftan -- a fashion which became popular in parts of eastern Europe, particularly in Poland where, as the zupan, it remained in vogue among the nobility until the 19th century.

A couple pages down from the first depiction of this fellow, and below the illustration of the Crucifixion, is a page with illustration dealing with Mohammed (spelled Machomet in the German vernacular of the time, you will find it written as Maometto in Italian texts, as in the title of Rossini's opera about Mehmet the Conqueror).
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Old 20th July 2020, 11:08 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78
The 9th picture of this set is an image that is used again in a picture in the next set that is identified as an 'Ottoman'. The clothing looks like Robin Hood, to me, but the sword at the waist says otherwise.


Vide supra re: costume. Don't you find it interesting that the depictions of Roman emperors (Severus, Diocletian, et al) in the book mostly show them carrying swords which are quite un-Roman in form, in fact identifiable as falchions of a sort, with blades reminiscent of those "scimitars" seen on the emblem affixed to Shriners' fezzes? I wonder if it could be, in the artistic repertoire of the place and time, a visual stereotype symbolizing the "bad guys" such as the Ottomans, or the pre-Constantine persecutors of Christians in ancient Rome. Much like we still associate the villains with wearing black hats in early Western films.
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Old 20th July 2020, 11:31 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78
The martyrdom of Saints is a frequent Medieval theme. I know we don't typically discuss some of the more ghastly applications of the arms we collect, but this still has value as source material.


In the long centuries when books were scarce and literacy rates were low, pictures were an important teaching tool. The clergy could read about saints in hagiographies, their congregations absorbed a lot of the information via sermons and graphics. And we are aware that sensationalism always grabs peoples' attention!

Looking at church art in various Italian cities, I was always impressed by the fact that some martyrdoms were more frequently depicted than others, it perhaps requires inquiry as to whether the lives or achievements of those saints had particular relevance to the problems that people of the era were most concerned with. For instance, one can hardly miss paintings or sculptures of St. Sebastian shot with arrows (someone researching crossbows and their spanners can learn a bit about their development from dated artworks showing them), St. Catherine and the spiked wheel (usually shown broken to illustrate the triumph of right over wrong), St. Barbara (patroness of ordnance workers and cannoneers) holding a model of the tower in which her pagan father imprisoned her before her death).

The association between saints and their particular demises, being a theme in religious art, has affected other aspects of culture. Hence the term "Catherine wheel" as a name for a particular type of pyrotechnic device (and a number of pubs in Britain, including one in Kensington, London). And the gridiron on which St. Lawrence was roasted alive providing the groundplan for the enormous palace/mausoleum complex "El Escorial" built by the Spanish Habsburgs near Madrid.
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Old 20th July 2020, 11:54 PM   #24
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Default the thingies at the city gate / der Scharfrichter

Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78

Oh, the fifth picture of this post contains an image of fortifications outside the main gate of a city/town. I included because I'm curious what is being represented. Not quite an edged weapon...but related, right?

The ninth picture is the one with the executioner swinging a two-handed sword that may depict a blunt tip. Again, this could just be a fault in the engraving, but the fact that such swords were often rebated caused me to make note of this

.


The spiky things outside the gate are cavalry repellant -- chevaux-de-frise or "Friesland horses" as they became known in France. I don't know the reason why the French tied them to this particular geographic location since am not sure exactly when and where they were invented. Typically they were arranged to block mass cavalry charges, since horses are understandably shy about having their tummies poked. In this case they would work fine for impeding footsoldiers en masse, too, since they would be forced to bunch up to access the approach footpaths, making them easier targets for the defenders.

The tip of the headsman's sword does appear to be blunted, but am not sure whether this might be due to it being clipped by the margin of the picture. After all, the image of St. Lucia stabbed through the neck (appearing elsewhere) shows the sword without a point because it falls at what would be the margin.

You might be interested in checking out Donald J. LaRocca's article, "The Renaissance Spirit" in the anthology Swords and Hilt Weapons (ed. Michael Coe), p 52. A woodcut by Hans Burgkmair (1473-1531) from the biography Der Weisskunig (Emperor Maximilian I) shows the headsman about to do his work on a victim kneeling atop the scaffold, and his sword clearly has a point. The blade's contour also has a distinct taper, like Oakeshott Type XII or XIII, not the parallel-edged or subtly widening shape of the "classic" Germanic heading-sword blade (incidentally, also used in Poland and Hungary.)
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Old 21st July 2020, 12:09 AM   #25
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Two pages up from the first appearance of our Ottoman friend, you can see on the left side something that at a hurried glance might appear to be a dagger, but is actually a socketed spearhead. The actual relic has been preserved in the Hofkammer at Vienna for centuries, it was once the property of the Holy Roman Emperors.

This object, by tradition, is the head of the Roman spear that pierced the side of Christ during the Crucifixion. It has been broken ages ago, and repaired with wire using an iron spike at midpoint, which is held to be one of the nails pulled out of the True Cross. I'll leave it to the experts on ancient Roman military equipment to comment on the historicity of the spearhead's design.

I have read somewhere that in some of the literature, this spearhead has been referred to as the Spear of St. Maurice. Interesting, since in the Armeria Reale di Torino is a sword that is traditionally venerated as La Spada di San Maurizio. St. Mauritius/Moritz/Maurizio was a Roman soldier who lived early in the imperial period, converting to Christianity and being martyred as a result. The sword, unfortunately, does not fit his bio since it is a far cry from a gladius or even a spatha; it is a typical north European knightly sword of late Viking type, Oakeshott Type X. Still well worth a visit if you're in town -- in remarkable condition for one of these, with scabbard and a polychromed fitted wooden case for the whole.
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Old 21st July 2020, 01:35 AM   #26
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Some really great insights, Philip!

I had never heard of chevaux-de-frise, before - interesting.

About the curved falcion/scimitar swords, I noticed these are also carried by many of the Jewish people depicted. A dark side of this book is that the level of antisemitism is stunning. If, as you postulate, the curved sword indicates a figure with a disreputable backstory, this would be consistent with the ways in which Jews are portrayed in the Chronicle. Although, Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is portrayed with such a blade. While possible even this figure wasn't spared disparagement, it is also possible the curved blade was just meant to represent the 'exotic' (much like Remnant's use of the keris.

Also, regarding that spear head, I almost didn't include it because I wasn't sure it was a spear, but I'm glad I did...the Spear of Destiny! I will have to try and read the entry and see how much it echoes what you have shared.

Thank you so much for these insights!
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Old 21st July 2020, 06:20 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shayde78
A dark side of this book is that the level of antisemitism is stunning. If, as you postulate, the curved sword indicates a figure with a disreputable backstory, this would be consistent with the ways in which Jews are portrayed in the Chronicle. Although, Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is portrayed with such a blade. While possible even this figure wasn't spared disparagement, it is also possible the curved blade was just meant to represent the 'exotic' (much like Remnant's use of the keris.



The Jewish patriarchs of the OT were given something of a free pass in the worldview of the times because they were part of the lineage of prophets that led up to the appearance of Jesus and thus the foundation of the True Faith. More problematic were the Jews who remained such after that time, who didn't go over to Christianity.

Keep in mind that ever since Rome's conversion thanks to Constantine, the Christian world has experienced sectarian tribalism from then until modern times. Highlights include the heated dispute between unitarian and trinitarian theologies that led to the Council of Nicaea's declaring the latter to be the correct version. But the Roman Catholic (Latin) and the various Eastern Orthodox (Greek liturgy) churches continued to bicker until the Great Schism formalized the acrimonious split in 1054, and the two principal wings of Christendom have not yet fully reconciled. And then came the Protestant Reformation which led to a century of disastrous religious wars over much of Western Europe and some pretty frightful goings-on in the British Isles as well... The upshot of all this was that Western Christendom had honed a pretty militant edge to its world-view even before the Middle Ages morphed into the Renaissance.

Amid all this, there was enough vitriol left over for the Jews as well. During the Crusades, the Franks made it a point to plunder and ravage Jewish communities, mainly in the German lands, on their way to the Holy Land to fight the Saracens. (And during the Fourth Crusade, these Catholic warriors committed the unspeakable against Orthodox Christians during the so-called Rape of Constantinople in 1204. Gibbon, ch 60, contains a dramatic and graphic description of the siege and its barbaric aftermath).

A lot of the anti-semitic feeling was fueled by economics. It wasn't just dogma and ideology. The Catholic Church, like Islam, banned the charging of interest, so Jews became the moneylenders by default. The prosperity and influence of many Jewish communities fueled resentment. For instance, during the late Middle Ages over 10% of the real estate around present-day Barcelona was in Jewish hands. In some countries, Jews represented a far greater share of the population than today -- some historians estimate that before the forced conversions and the voluntary exile of the unconverted in the 16th cent., up to 20% of Portugal's people were Jewish.

The Jews also suffered the fallout from the Christian-Islamic conflict in the medieval Iberian Peninsula. The feudal states that were to become Portugal and a united Spain fought their on-off-on Reconquistas since the Arab invasions of the 8th cent. Over time, the rather tolerant attitudes of early Moslem caliphs in Andalucía (the Iberian was called the Ornament of the World in the eyes of medieval Jewry) hardened with growing fundamentalism under dynasties like the Almoravides, and it was met with increasing Catholic militarism. The Jew was regarded as the infidel brethren of the Mohammedan, and traveling preachers preached fiery anti-semitic sermons in Spain in the same century that the Nürnberg Chronicle was written. Jews were required to accept Catholic baptism beginning in the mid-1400s, or be forced into exile. (Ferdinand and Isabella issued a formal expulsion order to Jews and Moors in 1492). Converted Jews were required to adopt surnames, be recorded on church baptismal records, and subject to surveillance, arrest, and punishment by the Inquisition if suspected of heresy. Portugal followed suit in the 16th cent. as a condition of one of its princes marrying into the Spanish royal lineage, and the persecution in both countries became a global institution: tribunals operated in Lima and Mexico City, crypto-Jews fled to Protestant countries and even to the frontier in today's New Mexico; a suspected heretic could be "fingered" by spies in Manila or Nagasaki, shipped to Goa (India) to be tried, interrogated, and burned at the stake there. Quite an operation... And these Inquisitions, which were really Crown-instigated institutions created for political ends with legitimacy granted by the Church with oversight by monastic orders, were not abolished until the early 1800s.

So, the graphics and text of the Chronicles were no anomaly, rather, they were part of a recognizable cultural matrix that had evolved in the West since the decline and fall of Rome.

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Old 21st July 2020, 01:36 PM   #28
fernando
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Could you tell who are those two personalities in the center of the last depiction, in the end of post #19 ? .
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Old 21st July 2020, 04:00 PM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Could you tell who are those two personalities in the center of the last depiction, in the end of post #19 ? .


I believe it is Fredrick III, Holy Roman Emperor (Romischer Kaiser) who died in August 1493, and his wife, Elanor of Portugal (however, she would have been deceased for a number of years before this image was made, but I don't believe Fredrick remarried so it may have been convention to continue to represent the royal couple this way).

I'm including additional images showing the entire page and the facing page to see if there are more clues there. The caption above the picture does indicate the figure on the right is Fredrich. It names (i believe) Pope Pius II on the left, but I assume that refers to the individual behind the throne with the pointy hat (miter?)
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Old 21st July 2020, 06:01 PM   #30
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Thank you Rob.
I take it however that Eneas (Pope Pio II) is the central figure, the one next to the King. I guess the crown (tiara) he wears is a papal exclusive, rather than the bishop miter the person in the back is wearing. Notwithstanding he is holding a patriarchal cross; in this case the subject of my interest ... i confess.
I wonder what is the episode (if in real life) the author depicting. I have tried to translate that four lines 'verse' ... but without success.


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