One of the most interesting manuscripts of the late Middle Ages is now available online – The Geese Book, a lavishly and whimsically illuminated, two-volume liturgical book, can now be accessed through a project from the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
The Geese Book was produced in Nuremberg, Germany between 1503 and 1510, and gives the complete liturgy compiled for the parish of St. Lorenz, which was used until the Reformation was introduced in the city in 1525.
The volumes are renowned for their high quality decorative illumination including fanciful pictures, provocative and satirical imagery of animals, dragons, and wild people. The work takes its name from an enigmatic illustration showing a choir of geese singing from a large chant manuscript with a wolf as their choirmaster. A fox, who has joined the choir, extends his paw menacingly in the direction of one of the geese.
In 1952 the parish of St. Lorenz presented the book to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in gratitude for its support in rebuilding the church after Second World War. In 1962 the Samuel H. Kress Foundation gave the manuscript to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, where it remains today.
The broad goal of the project is to provide a critical model for both re-integrating the arts and recontextualizing them historically. A multi-sensory work from the late Middle Ages is being explored and (re-)presented through current digital multimedia technologies. The web-based presentation opens the book and associated scholarly exchange while it also makes the work accessible to broader audiences. With the aid of the media designers, researchers from several fields collaborate in offering original analyses on the origins of the Geese Book and contouring its makers and authors.
The project consists of several components and products. The centerpiece is a website that contains a digital facsimile allowing, for the first time, unrestricted access to its 1120 pages. Users can listen to chants characteristic of the liturgy of the early 16th century, performed by the renowned Schola Hungarica of Budapest. In this new digital form, the Geese Book will also return home to Nuremberg without leaving the protective environment guaranteed by the Morgan Library and its conservators.
Through a series of videos focusing on the main historical protagonists, the site explains the complex setting for the production and use of this liturgical book. More than two and a half hours of video can be accessed in English and in German.
Important associated illuminated manuscripts were discovered through investigations for the project and are also published here for the first time. For scholars, the project provides complete codicological information, as usually associated with the best traditional facsimiles, as well as an archive of reproduced handwritten sources hitherto unknown. The format facilitates and encourages scholarly exchange of new research through its open and extensible format.
Leading scholars, media professionals, academic institutions, public broadcasters, and recording companies from the U.S., China, Germany, the Netherlands, and Hungary have collaborated to accomplish these goals. The project received generous support from institutional and corporate sponsors in the U.S. and Germany.