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[Nuremberg, c.1540]
328 x 210mm. 138 leaves (apparently lacking a leaf once foliated 3, possibly blank) of which 68 pages with text written in cursive German hands and 64 pages with full-page illustration including FIFTY-FOUR FULL-LENGTH SILVER-MASKED COSTUMED FIGURES, accompanied by coats of arms, FIVE TOURNAMENT SCENES and nine further illustrations of carnival floats on text pages, all illustration in ink and coloured wash and some body-colour (some spotting and tiny tears at the bottom edge of first three leaves). CONTEMPORARY PANELLED CALF OVER WOODEN BOARDS, stamped in blind with tools including a roll with two crucifixions and a standing saint, a roll with entwining flower and foliage, and various flower and leaf stamps, upper cover lettered 'Schenpert Buch', brass fore-edge clasps and catches (scuffed and losses of leather from edges, lacking one clasp, rebacked).



Recording one of the great civic festivities of Nuremberg, Schempart, or Scönbart books, both manuscript and printed, 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- ind 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. The present manuscript is one of the earliest of surviving copies and it dates soon after the final occurence of the event in 1539: the bear watermark is the same as Piccard, Vierfüssler, Raubtiere, XV, 2, no 915, given as Nürnberg 1538.

Purchased from Emil Offenbacher 13 October 1949.


The Schempart Lauf -- a carnival parade for Shrove Tuesday -- originated as a privilege granted by the emperor Charles IV in 1349 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. After almost a year Charles IV moved against them, reinstated the original regime, had their usurpers executed and had 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 Schempart -- dance, perform fencing matches and parade. The dancers were protected by Laüfer, runners, whose own perfomance 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 -- 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 Schempart carnival took place. It was sometimes suspended because of plague or unrest, occasionally when it did take place it 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 offensive to Reformation sensibilities was compounded by the presence on the float of a figure representing the Lutheran minister Osiander, holding a backgammon board, and 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 Schempart Lauf once again became part of Nuremberg public life.


The colourful figures, adopting striking attitudes to best display their flamboyant outfits, are enchanting and dramatic evocations of renaissance spectacle. They are boldly drawn with a firm contouring line and silver- and gold-leaf are used to accent the patterns on their costumes and their metal accessories -- knives, spear tips and bells. But the feature that distinguishes this manuscript from other Schempart books is that the masks worn by the revellers are also all silver. They have remained remarkably untarnished: turning the pages of book becomes, itself, the unfolding of a sparkling and fantastic pageant.

Brief account of the origin of the Schempart Lauf f.4v; List of noteworthy events from 1355 to 1440 f.5; individual records of all the Schempart carnivals that took place from 1449-1539, over a page-opening with text on the recto giving the name of the leaders, significant events of the year or years in between carnivals, on the facing verso an illustration of the leader in full costume and identified by his coat of arms, in some instances the carnival float for that year is painted beside him or on the facing recto below the text ff.6v-61; there are additional entries for some years: all the runners are listed for 1503 on f.40, and for 1518 on ff.54-55; an account of the Butcher and Cutlers' dance (Metzger und Messerschnid Tanz) and the origin of the Schempart Lauf ff.63-64; a procession over four pages with horseback buglers on f.67v, followed by two horseback stewards on f.68, a piper and a drummer on f.68v and two lancebearers on f.69, the following three page-openings with pairs of jousting knights in elaborately crested helms and with their horses and accompanying jesters wearing their livery, each knight is named ff.69-72; account of the events of 1349 and 1350 ff.116-122v. The remaining pages are blank.

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