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Exploring the Most Beautiful Book Ever Designed: The Kelmscott Chaucer Online

Published Feb 20, 2024

The Kelmscott Chaucer Online is an online catalogue that allows visitors to explore what is often regarded as the most beautiful book ever created.

The project is another meticulous endeavor by Dr. Michael John Goodman, a researcher, educator and writer known for his work in digitizing and cataloguing historical artworks. This new compilation is a tribute to the Kelmscott Chaucer, an exquisitely designed book published in 1896.

Title Page, Double Page Spread.

The website is a gorgeous visual journey, featuring 87 wood-cut illustrations by Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, as well as 18 frames, 14 borders and 26 decorative words designed by William Morris. These elements were all part of the final project produced by Morris and Burne-Jones.

The Knight’s Tale (1/6) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.
Chaucer and Muse / Romance of the Rose, Double Page Spread.
The Knight’s Tale (6/6) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.

A Masterpiece of Design and Literature

The Kelmscott Chaucer is widely considered a masterpiece, not just for its literary content, but also for its remarkable design. The book was the culmination of the creative partnership between Morris and Burne-Jones, who shared a vision of reviving the beauty of handcrafted books in an age of industrial printing.

Burne-Jones’ elaborate illustrations bring the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer to life in striking detail, and Morris’ ornate frames, borders and decorative words complement these illustrations perfectly, creating a visual experience that is as engaging as the stories themselves.

The Tale of the Man of Law (1/1) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.
Decorated Word #12 Designed by William Morris.
The Franklin’s Tale (1/6) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.

A Passion for Digitizing History

The Kelmscott Chaucer Online is not Dr. Goodman’s first venture into the world of digitizing historical art and literature. His previous projects include The Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery, which we have featured here on the grid, and the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

Dr. Goodman’s work reflects a deep appreciation for history and a commitment to making it accessible to modern audiences. If you would like to learn more about his work, you can visit his website for more information.

The House of Fame (3/7) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.
Decorated Word #18 Designed by William Morris.
The Legend of Good Women (8/12) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.
The Romance of the Rose (10/17) Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones.

An invaluable resource

The Kelmscott Chaucer Online is a fantastic example of the enduring appeal of thoughtful design and the power of digital technology to preserve and share our cultural heritage. It is an invaluable resource for lovers of literature and art, and a fascinating exploration of one of the most significant works in the history of book design.

In the words of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The Kelmscott Chaucer is undoubtedly both, and thanks to Dr. Michael John Goodman’s diligent work, we can all explore this masterpiece from the comfort of our homes.


Cover: The General Prologue, Illustrated by Edward Burne-Jones

All images: Michael John Goodman, The Kelmscott Chaucer Online: kelmscottchauceronline.org

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