Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Renaissance Towns from the Nuremberg Chronicle

The Nuremberg Chronicle was one of the first printed books of history; this edition of the Latin text dates to 1493. You'll have to click on the images to get a good view of these splendid townscapes. Above, Nuremberg itself.








1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Interesting to see a depiction of Constantinople (or rather, at this point Istanbul) just 40 years after being conquered by the Ottomans.

It seems to be shown in a positive light, as if prosperous and serene, which surprises me given that it was almost constantly beset by the plague during the latter half of the 15th century, and in fact throughout most of the 16th century as well. I also would think that the Christian world, particularly the Holy Roman Empire, would have had a vested interest in portraying the city as suffering under Ottoman rule.

One detail that intrigues me are the two coats of arms visible on the walls and above the gates. First, the yellow and black one.

The double-headed eagle was of course a Byzantine symbol in use for centuries, and the Ottomans adopted it as their own when they proclaimed themselves the successors to the Roman Empire. But the particular choice of colors here is very odd. The Byzantines typically had a golden eagle on a red field, which to my knowledge the Ottomans borrowed wholesale. But the Holy Roman Empire, putting forth their own competing claim of legitimate successorship, used a coat of arms almost exactly like this one - a black eagle on a yellow field, with basically identical proportions.

The other coat of arms is a bit harder for me to parse. It looks like the tetragrammatic cross of the Byzantine Palaiologos dynasty, but the colors are unusual and don't match what I'm familiar with. In fact, what it seems to mostly closely resemble is the Serbian coat of arms, which borrows the tetragrammatic cross, but changes the colors to red and white. But what would Serbia have to do with Constantinople in 1493?

That said, what at first look like the "B" beta / firesteel insignias of the tetragrammatic cross, appear, upon closer inspection, to perhaps instead be crescent moons? That would certainly make sense for the city under Ottoman rule, as the crescent moon is a major Islamic symbol.

But then, if that's the case, why the disconnect between showing a presumably Ottoman symbol right next to what seems to be the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire? This is a German text, and the HRE was in competition with the Sultanate of Rum to be seen as the legitimate heirs to the Roman Empire's legacy. It would seem to be highly unlikely for them to show their own iconography alongside that of their rival.

Simply put, I don't quite understand what sort of message the creator of this illustration was trying to send or why.