The following six lots, to a greater or lesser degree, record one of the great civic spectacles of Renaissance Nuremberg: the Schembart Lauf. This carnival parade for Shrove Tuesday originated in 1349 as a privilege granted by the emperor Charles IV to the butchers' guild of Nuremberg. The previous year the trade guilds of the city had risen up, overthrown and replaced the patrician town council. Their new council survived for almost a year and then Charles IV moved against them; he reinstated the original regime, had their usurpers executed and their new building torn down. To reward the butchers' guild for not participating in the revolt the Emperor granted them the right to a special public celebration on Fassnacht: they could wear masks -- the Schembart -- dance, perform fencing matches and parade. The dancers were protected by Laüfer, runners, whose own performance gradually came to be the main event. They wore not only masks but newly designed, extravagant costumes, richly decorated with embroidery and ribbons, and bells that jingled as they ran through the streets. They brandished lances and bunches of leaves - known as Lebensrute -- that concealed fireworks. From the end of the 15th century there were also floats -- called Hölle or hells -- that were the focus of further spectacle. There were at least sixty-four years from 1449 to 1539 when the Schembart carnival took place. It was sometimes suspended because of plague or unrest; occasionally when it did take place it was itself the cause of problems and led to disorder and, even, fire. It was the potential -- and actual -- riotousness of these events that caused their eventual demise: in 1539 the general rowdiness that had already been seen as offensive to Reformation sensibilities was compounded by the presence on the float of a figure representing the Lutheran minister Osiander. Scandalously, he held a backgammon board and was surrounded by fools and devils. This was a step too far. In spite of various earlier attempts at reinstatement it was not until the 20th century that the Schembart Lauf once again became part of Nuremberg public life.
Books, both manuscript and printed, that record the carnival's participants and their different costumes from year to year were produced from the 16th to the 20th centuries: S. Sumberg, The Nuremberg Schembart Carnival, 1941; H.-U. Roller, Der Nürnberger Schembartlauf. Studium zum Fest- und Maskenwesen des späten Mittelalters, 1965; The World From Here, Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles, eds C. Burlingham & B. Whiteman, exh. cat. Los Angeles 2001-2002, pp.158-159. They started to be made almost immediately after the Schembart Lauf was banned and it seems likely that the 16th-century manuscripts were part of the attempt to get the festival restored. More than eighty manuscripts survive, most of them in German institutions, but only two have been offered at auction in the last fifty years, one (Christie's London, 7 June 2006, lot 62) a manuscript from the Austrian National Library that had been restituted to the heirs of Rudolf Ritter von Gutmann, and the other (Christie's New York, 27 June 2006, lot 135) from the Cornelius J. Hauck Collection from the Cincinnati Museum Center.
The essential element in the Schembart books is the sequence of figures representing the lead figure for each year, the Hauptmann, wearing a mask and a highly decorative costume, and usually identified by coats of arms. While the details of costume are faithfully repeated in each copy they are very differently represented. It remains true of each, however, that turning the pages itself becomes the unfolding of a colourful and dramatic pageant.
Five of these manuscripts were among the 20,000 volumes purchased by H.P. Kraus from the library of the Princes of Liechtenstein in 1949. Kraus sold other Nuremberg manuscripts, including SCHEMBART books, from the same source to academic libraries including the New York Public Library and the University of Los Angeles.