Opening the Geese Book

On November 27, 2012, the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies launched the international pilot project “Opening the Geese Book,” directed by Volker Schier and Corine Schleif.

The project focuses on the lavishly and whimsically illuminated, two-volume liturgical manuscript known as the Geese Book. Produced in Nuremberg, Germany between 1503 and 1510, this gradual preserves the complete liturgy compiled for the parish of St. Lorenz, which was used until the Reformation was introduced in the city in 1525. 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 the destruction of WW II. In 1962 the Samuel H. Kress Foundation gave the manuscript to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, where it remains today. Measuring 26 by 17 inches, the volumes are the largest in the collection. Today they are particularly valued for their high quality illuminations, several of which employ fanciful and provocative satirical imagery. The book takes its name from an enigmatic, self-referential, bas-de-page illustration that shows a choir of geese and a fox singing from a large chant manuscript with a wolf as their choirmaster.

The broad goal of the project is to provide a critical model for both re-integrating the arts and recontextualizing them historically. A multisensory 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 Web site 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. 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. 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.

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