First English edition of the Nuremberg chronicle: being the Liber chronicarum of Dr. Hartmann Schedel…
FOLIO V verso

The creation of the world having been accomplished by divine wisdom in six days, and heaven and earth having been finished, ordered and adorned, the glorious God fulfilled his task; and on the seventh day he rested from his labors. Having created the entire world and all the things therein, he stopped, not because he was wearied by his labors, but to make a new and immortal creature or likeness out of matter; for he never ceased in his work of creation. And the Lord blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, and called it the Sabbath, which according to the Hebrew tongue means rest, for on the seventh day he rested from all the work which he had done.[Genesis 2:1-3.] The Jews may be known by the fact that on this day they also rest from their labors. Before the time of the Law this same day was also observed as a holiday by certain pagan peoples. And thus we have arrived at the end of the divine works. Therefore we should fear, love and honor him in whom all visible and invisible things are comprehended; and of the Lord of Heaven, who is the Lord of all good, and vested with power over heaven and earth, we should seek like endowments as well as the true blessings of eternal life.


This is one of the most interesting illustrations in the Chronicle, and covers almost an entire page. It represents the universe according to the Ptolemaic System as amplified by the Fathers of the Church in medieval times. The same concentric circles which appeared in previous illustrations of the Creation series are here again invoked, and developed with considerable detail. In the center is the earth (terra) in the form and size of a small coin. We know this is the earth because it says so and because it is depicted by a landscape, which, however, again appears as inverted. The earth is circumscribed by thirteen orbits:

  1. SPERA AQUE – The zone of water or moisture, by which the earth is kept from being burned up by the heat of the upper regions.
  2. SPERA AERIS – The zone of the air.
  3. SPERA IGNUS – The zone which is all aflame with fire and heat, against which the earth is protected by zone one.
  4. SPERA LUNE – in which the moon is shown in its first quarter.
  5. SPERA MERCURY - The sphere of the planet of that name; shown as a star.
  6. SPERA VENERIS – The course of the planet Venus.
  7. SPERA SOLIS – in which the sun is shining forth with all its might.
  8. SPERA MARUS – The sphere of Mars, represented as a star.
  9. SPERA IOUIS (Jove) – The orbit of Jupiter, also shown as a star.
  10. SPERA SATURNI – Wherein moves the planet Saturn, shown as a star.
  11. FIRMAMENTI – A band containing the twelve signs of the Zodiac.
  12. COELUM CHRISTALLINUM – The imaginary crystal envelope or ceiling of the firmament.
  13. PRIMUM MOBILE – Representing the prime moving force (or first mover) by which the universe is kept in motion.

Ptolemy was a native of Egypt and flourished 139-161 CE. As an astronomer and geographer he held sway over the minds of scientific men down to the sixteenth century. He proceeded on a geocentric theory—that the earth is the center of the universe, and that the heavenly bodies revolve about it; that beyond and in the ether surrounding the earth’s atmosphere are concentric spherical shells, to each of which a heavenly body is attached, the fixed stars occupying the eighth. According to his Cosmography the world is divided into two vast regions, the one ethereal, the other elementary. The ethereal begins with the first mover (primum mobile) which accomplishes its journey from east to west in twenty-four hours; ten skies participate in this motion, and their totality comprises the double crystalline heaven, the firmament of the seven planets. He placed the double crystalline heaven between the first mover and the firmament. The elementary region, comprising the four elements, earth, water, air and fire, reigned beneath the cavity of the sky, and was subject to the influence of the moon. The terrestrial globe, composed of earth and water, existed motionless in the center of the world, and was surrounded by the element of air, in which was mingled that of fire.

It is the Fathers of the Church that we owe the medieval idea of a crystal vault, a heaven of glass, composed of eight or ten superimposed layers, something like so many skins of an onion. This idea seems to have lingered on in certain cloisters of southern Europe, even in the nineteenth century, for a venerable prince of the church told Humboldt in 1815, that a large aerolite lately fallen, which was covered with a vitrified crust, must be a fragment of the crystalline sky. On these various spheres, one enveloping without touching another, they supposed the several planets to be fixed. While the primum mobile rotated from east to west, each planet and fixed star made an effort against this motion, by means of which each of them accomplished its revolution about the earth in greater or less time, according to its distance or the magnitude of the orbit it had to accomplish.

The heavens, as we have seen, were not supposed to consist of a single sphere, but of several concentric ones, the arrangement and names of which we must now inquire into.

The early Chaldeans established three. The first was the empyreal heaven which was the most remote. This, which they called also the solid firmament was made of fire, but of fire so rare and penetrating in nature, that it easily passed through the other heavens, and became universally diffused, and in this way reached the earth. The second was the ethereal heaven, containing the stars, which were simply formed of the more compact and censer parts of this substance; and the third heaven was that of the planets. The Persians, however, gave a separate heaven to the sun, and another to the moon.

The system which has enjoyed the longest and most widely spread reign is that which places above, or rather round, the solid firmament a heaven of water (the nature of which is not accurately defined), and round this a primum mobile, prime mover, or originator of all the motions, and round all this the empyreal heaven, or abode of the blessed.

In the illustration before us this universe of thirteen spheres is contained in a much larger circumference in the base of which is rests, forming a crescent above the universe. In this crescent or empyreal heaven sits the Almighty on his throne, resting from his labors, and surrounded by a host of rejoicing celestial beings. This is the immobile and fixed region in which the Creator, according to Schedel, established his throne when he was about to enter upon the work of the creation.

Inscribed on the panel of the left in this woodcut are the following names: SERAPHIM, CHERUBIM, THRONI, DOMINACIONES, PRINCIPATES, POTESTATES, VIRTUTES, ARCHANGELI, and ANGELI. According to Roman Catholic theology these nine divisions, choirs or orders of angels make up the celestial hierarchy:

  • SUPER CELESTIAL - one head
    • Upper Order
      • Seraphim
      • Cherubim
      • Thrones
    • Middle Order
      • Dominations
      • Principalities
      • Powers
    • Lower Order
      • Virtues
      • Archangels
      • Angels
  • SUB-CELESTIAL - Holy Persons

Apparently the artists here combined the ideas of Ptolemy with those of the Church Fathers. In the center we have the immovable earth, surrounded by the three other elements, and thus constituting the elementary world. Enveloping these, and succeeding one another are the orbits of the planets. The eighth orbit represents the firmament, which is followed by the crystalline heaven. Above all these is the primum mobile which rotates the entire machine; and his angelic hosts.

The geocentric theory of Ptolemy was finally supplanted by the heliocentric theory of Nicolas Copernicus, founder of modern astronomy. Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473, just twenty years before the Nuremberg Chronicle was published. His work, De Revoluntionibus Orbium Coelestium, proving the sun, and not the earth, to be the center of the universe, was not completed until 1530. In 1542 Copernicus was seized with apoplexy, and on May 24, 1543, the first printed copy of the work was touched by his dying hands. And thus he escaped the posthumous condemnation passed upon the work, which was placed in the Index by Rome in 1616, notwithstanding its having been dedicated to the pope. Be it said in praise of Copernicus that he was a creator of true astronomy, and that at a time when astrologers, necromancers, and diviners were alone in favor. He inaugurated a new era in the scientific world. As has been remarked by the learned Doctor Hoefer, "Copernicus begot Keppler, and Keppler begot Newton. What a genealogical tree!"

The four corners of the woodcut accompanying the seventh day are filled in with the winds, their distended cheeks blowing from the four cardinal points of the compass: SUBSOLANUS (east wind), AUSTER (south wind), APARCTIAS (north wind), and ZEPHYRUS (west wind).