Astronomical Coincidences in the Voynich Zodiac

In a recent post, I wrote about how the Voynich Sagittarius’ pose might be explained by the illustrator choosing to represent him pointing his arrow towards a specific star/nymph, the only one holding her star low. If we follow the layout of star maps, the nymph would be in the right place to represent Antares or another star in Scorpio, low on the ecliptic and facing Sagittarius’ arrow.

There are a few more curious coincidences in the Zodiac section, some of which I will present here.

Dark Taurus: It’s hard to see because of a hole in the page, but one of the nymphs in the inner circle (the only one on the page that is not nude) appears to have an unusually long arm.


When I noticed it, this immediately reminded me of the depictions of Orion that are found in medieval Arabic astronomical illustrations, and later in the Alphonsine manuscripts and their adaptations throughout Europe. Orion is either depicted as having a particularly long “sleeve” (which the Arabic astronomers called al-Kumm) or in some of the Alphonsine versions, as holding some sort of long cloth. This iconographic tradition persisted alongside others, well into the 16th C.

The position of this “nymph” in the composition, facing Taurus, is also identical to the position of Orion relative to Taurus in star charts. Orion is an easy constellation to find in the sky, and it can be used to locate Taurus. Isidore of Seville connects the two: “Orion astrum ante Tauri vestigia fulget“.

It could just be that the artist was trying to avoid the hole (if it was there before the drawing was made) and so made the arm longer to make room for the star. It seems to me that the hole was there before the drawing, but got larger and more frayed around the edges over time.

But in that case, why not shift the entire composition so that the hole wasn’t in the way, like he did on the reverse side (f72v1)? There would have been ample room to do that. It could be that he drew her there, in spite of the hole, to ensure that Orion was placed before the hooves of Taurus, as per Isidore’s description.

Dark Aries is another folio which features interesting coincidences.

The nymph directly above Aries’ head is depicted inside a barrel which is decorated with an angular pattern, which forms a triangle. The placement of this triangle shape right above Aries reflects the way the constellations of Aries and the Triangle are laid out on star charts and in medieval astronomy books. Aratus wrote that when the moon was bright, Aries could be located in sky the by finding the Triangle first, and in spite of Hipparchus’ objection that the stars of Aries are actually brighter than those in Triangulum, the idea that Triangulum was a signifier of Aries, also found in Hyginus, was repeated throughout medieval manuscripts. The phrase “Aries infra Deltoton“, was copied over and over (and sometimes rather miscopied, see Lippincott, 2006, p.21), and in the Voynich manuscript, we do indeed find Aries infra Deltoton: under a triangle.

The placement of a tub decorated with triangular forms above the head of Aries may well be a complete coincidence. It could also be that the illustrator, while decorating the tubs with random patterns, reached the one above the head of Aries and decided that a triangular design would be fitting for this one due the astronomical tradition of depicting Aries infra Deltoton. But it might just be also, that the nymph in that tub is meant to actually represent the constellation Triangulum, or one of its stars.

Pisces Triangle Barrel (upside down)

In many manuscripts, we find Triangulum in between the constellations of Aries and Pisces, mirroring the layout in the sky. Interestingly, in the Voynich a triangle pattern is also found on another barrel, near the bottom fish on the Pisces page (see above, flipped upwards for viewing convenience).  The fact that the triangle motif is found on both of these pages, near the constellations that Triangulum actually neighbors in the sky, is something I found noteworthy.


Although I was hesitant to add this one, here’s another coincidence about the Dark Aries page. Right next to the posited “Triangulum”, there is another figure which looks distinctly male, wearing a cap. The tail to his star is unique: it is striped, and almost like a cape or scarf, it extends from behind his neck rather than being held. In the sky, right next to Triangulum, we find the constellation Perseus, often depicted nude except for a cap and a cape extending behind his neck.

That is as far as I’m going to go with this, although there are actually a few more such examples. A couple of coincidences is far from enough to make a statement about the way the whole Zodiac section works, and I don’t want to be guided by a theory, only to end up desperately stretching and twisting things to get every nymph or tub in this section to “fit” a constellation, so for now I’ll simply say that these are remarkable coincidences.

Additionally, even if these are intentional, it does not mean they necessarily form part of a system, or relate to the text. The illustrator could have added these touches as a reflection of his astronomical knowledge, spicing up otherwise repetitive work, and they may not be relevant to the overall meaning of the illustrations.

The examples discussed in this post struck me as worthy of presenting, but I can’t be sure that any of them are significant, and so far I have not found any consistent system throughout the whole zodiac section that would confirm these interpretations. The fact that the iconographic program is simplified after the first few pages of the Zodiac section would suggest a lack of such consistency throughout the section anyway.


A Closer Look at the Voynich Pisces


As I’ve often stated before, I don’t consider the colors in the Voynich Manuscript to be relevant. Except perhaps the yellow, and some of the red, I don’t see any evidence that the person who added them understood the text. The blues, intentionally or not, often hide details that the illustrator had taken the time to draw, especially in Q13, so I regard it as particularly suspect, and ignore blue completely. One day I’ll write a detailed post about my views on colors in the Voynich Manuscript, but for now, let’s just say I mostly ignore the colors.

The Voynich Pisces consists of two fish heading in opposite directions. So far, nothing unusual. Each fish has a tailed star connected to its mouth, and that’s very, very unusual.  It is frequently stated that another unusual feature of the Voynich Pisces is that the two fish are connected by a line, but that unlike in most representations of Pisces,this line runs outside, rather than in between the two fish. This is where I disagree.

There is no line connecting those fish.

Let’s take a closer look:

VoynichPisces (2)

The supposed line is an impression entirely created by the blue paint. I don’t see any evidence of a brown line drawn by the illustrator underneath it. The artist originally didn’t connect the two fish.

Let’s clean up the image and remove some of that distracting blue paint to see what the Voynich Pisces was originally designed to look like.


We are left with two unlinked fish, each connected to a star.

This process reveals two interesting bits of information. First it shows that the Voynich artist comes from a culture, or is copying from a model, where Pisces is represented as two fish that are not connected by a line. There are several examples of Pisces as two unconnected, long-snouted, head-to-tail fish, although these are rare. I have found them only in manuscripts from France and from the Lake Constance area. If we add the criteria of these fish being in a roundel, then 100% of the ones I’ve found so far are from the Germany/Austria/Switzerland region. These long-snouted, unconnected Pisces seem to be a very distinctive style, specific to that area.


It also suggests that the person who added the blue may not have shared this background, and thus may have attempted to correct what he may have seen as a mistake and tried to connect the fish to better reflect a version of Pisces he was familiar with. He may have used an outside line either to try to reflect the actual configuration in the sky, or because he didn’t have enough room in between the fish to draw the usual S-shaped line. The latter scenario raises the possibility that the blue paint was added after the “mars” label.

It’s also possible that the blue line is only supposed to indicate that the fish are in water, which would also explain why the painter added blue on top of the fish, to show them as underwater.

Even if we were to consider the blue line as valid, it is worth mentioning that it doesn’t actually connect the fish. It only sort of wraps around them. It is not connected at either end to the fish or to the stars or to the stars’ tails.

Therefore the misleading blue line is best ignored. If we are looking for a match for the Voynich Pisces, the fish should not be connected to each other at all.

In closing, I’d like to draw attention to some images which are not of Pisces but of stars in the constellation of Cetus, from a 15th Century German MS which the Warburg Iconographic Database unfortunately only references as “Vienna, Collection Gutmann, Calendarium“. It really does seem to be a fascinating manuscript, especially in relation to the Voynich Zodiac pages, and I wish I could find more information about it and better scans.

Here is Menkar, with an almost perfect match to the Voynich fish. Note the snout, scales, fins, tail, and of course the star (the nearby “nymphs” are also interesting):

CollectionGutmann f28v

On the same page there is another fish with a star, which is unnamed:

GutmannCalendarium, 28v

And a few pages later (32r), another star from Cetus, Deneb Kaitos:

GutmannCalendarium, 32r



The Voynich Sagittarius: A coincidence?

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Following a recent post on Nick Pelling’s website, I was scouring the Voynich nymphs once again to try and decide which one is my favorite, and the search led me to an observation which I would like to share here.

(Before I begin, I want to apologize for the unanswered comments to my last post! I  have been away from home for a long time and need to get back to some of my source material to provide proper answers and also to finish writing up part 3 of that series of posts. Hopefully that can happen next month…)

Several Voynich bloggers and researchers have looked into various aspects of the f73v Sagittarius’s clothing, facial hair, weapon and pose (see for example the 2003 crossbow analysis by Jens Sensfelder over at, or these blogposts by JK Petersen, or the work done by Marco Ponzi and Darren Worley on Stephen Bax’s blog, or the many discussions on the subject on the forum).

I would like to entertain a different angle on the Voynich Sagittarius’ pose, based on the overall composition of the roundel illustration in relation to the circle of nymphs around it.

First of all, if we focus on the surrounding nymphs, we can see that the layout is unusual. Starting at about 11 o’clock, they are all oddly squished together, which is strange, as by the time he created the Sagittarius page, the illustrator would surely have become used to placing 10 nymphs in the innermost circle, as he does easily on f72v1, and without too much difficulty in 73r. Elsewhere, there can be up to 14 nymphs in the inner circle. It can also be noted that the illustration on  73v isn’t limited by the size of the page (there would have been room to draw a slightly bigger circle) nor by the presence of neighboring illustrations (such as in the Gemini/Cancer foldout). The cramped quarters of the initial nymphs may well be deliberate, which might indicate that something else is going on. It might be ok for these nymphs to be packed together like sardines if it ensures the correct placement of another, more important nymph.

Let’s get back to the crossbowman. His arrow points directly towards a nymph at around 8 o’clock. This nymph is remarkable: out of all the human figures in the zodiac section, she is the only one who holds her star with her arm stretched downwards. There is no apparent reason for her to do this: there would have been ample room for the artist to draw her in the Classic or Brandish pose. Could Sagittarius’ unusual pose actually be an indication, pointing towards this nymph?

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Why might this nymph be holding her star like this, and why would she warrant a special nod from the crossbowman? Here’s one theory:

The nymph at 11 o’clock in the inner circle seems to be the first one that was drawn, and among Voynich researchers there appears to be some consensus that the order of the nymphs on any given zodiac page should be read from the inside out (inner circle first, outer second, additional top nymphs last).

If we begin counting the days of Sagittarius following this plan, the 11 o’clock nymph (n°1) becomes November 22nd, and eight nymph-days later, the downwards star nymph (n°9) is November 30th. November 30th is the last day of the liturgical year, St Andrew’s day, which was and still is widely celebrated by Christians of all denominations around the world. It is immediately followed by the fist day of the next liturgical year, aka the first day of Advent, and indeed the next nymph, the tenth one in the inner circle, can be seen holding her star up high.

Of course the apparent interaction between Sagittarius and Nymph n°9 might just be coincidental, or it could be some sort of drollerie-style naughty joke, but the theory I’ve presented here just might explain both the nymph’s pose and the crossbowman’s pose as a coherent whole. The crossbowman might be drawn in this way so that his arrow can behave like the hand of a clock, marking an important time: St Andrew’s day, the end of the liturgical year, and the transition to the beginning of Advent, the new year.

In any case, for now this means that Sagittarius Nymph n°9 will have my vote in Nick Pelling’s Best Nymph poll!

Edit: In light of Rene Zandbergen’s comment below, I have to revise my opinion, as the dates for Sagittarius were different at the time of the Voynich manuscript’s creation. Instead, could the position of the crossbowman’s arrow reflect Sagittarius’ orientation in the sky? If we look at the constellation Sagittarius in the sky, it has its’ arrow pointing towards Scorpius, so might Nymph n°9 represent Antares, or another star in Scorpio?


Drolleries, Margins, Labels and Voynich Q13M

One of the arguments against the idea that the Q13M illustrations in the lateral margins belong to the drollery family of illustrations (which I explored in my last post) is the fact that the Voynich figures are labeled.

In this post I would like to present a few refinements to this notion, and also look at what kind of information we can glean from labeled drolleries.

First of all, let’s look at the actual frequency of labels in Q13M.

Pages with systematic labels: 77r.

Pages where only some of the figures have labels: 77v, 80r, 82r&v, 83r&v.

Pages without labels: 76v, 79r&v, 80v.

Total systematically labeled pages in Q13M: 1

Total  partially labeled pages in Q13M: 6

Total unlabeled pages in Q13M: 3

It should be noted that the folios of Q13M are much more likely to have either no labels (3 out of 10) or only partial ones (6 out of 10). Why are some figures labeled and not others? The coexistence of labeled and unlabeled figures on the same folios deserves more attention.

Counting labeled vs unlabeled figures for Q13M, out of a total of 87 human figures, only 34 are labeled. The majority of the Q13M figures are therefore not labeled.

Of those 34, only 5 occur in the lateral margins. All the others are either in the haut-de-page or bas-de-page illustrations.

Such proportions cannot be insignificant: the fact that the upper and lower marginal illustrations almost always contain labels, but the lateral ones almost never do, cannot be ignored when we analyze the Q13M illustrations.

What we can see is that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the marginal nymphs are not labeled. The labels in Q13M are almost always present near nymphs who are in the haut-de-page or bas-de-page illustrations. Voynich f80r is a particularly good example of this: there is a profusion of labels in the upper margin scene, but none near any of the side margin figures.

With these numbers in mind, let’s get back to the subject of drolleries. First of all, while it is true that most of the time drolleries were not labeled, this is not always the case, as in the example below.

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f190v, BL Add MS 49622

The layout of labeled vs unlabeled illustrations in Q13M actually matches up quite well with what can be observed in other illuminated manuscripts, such as BNF NAL 3255.  The bas-de-page scenes are not drolleries: they illustrate subjects that are related to the overall main theme of Christianity, but are not an illustration of the text on the page; while the Breviary contains prayers, the illustrations refer to core concepts and rituals of Christianity, saints, virtues, etc. They have labels which make the reference explicit for the reader. The unlabeled illustrations in the lateral margins are drolleries: they are unlabeled because they have no purpose other than to decorate the page and amuse the reader.

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f1 BNF NAL 3255, France, 1300-1325. The illustrations to the left and center show Adam and Eve, “where the original sin came from” and “the sacrament of baptism” which absolves it.

BNF NAL 3134, a book of hours, shows another type of labeled drolleries: here again the lateral margins are unlabeled and pure fantasy, but the bas-de-page ones comically illustrate popular expressions and local proverbs, which are written out in the adjoining labels.

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f184, BNF NAL3134, Book of Hours, Rouen, France, 15thC.

Another type of labeled drollerie is found in BNF Latin 10435, a psalter from Picardy. Here again, the true drolleries are unlabeled, while the bas-de-page illustrations are labeled in red. The scenes depicted in the bottom margins are meant to be charming or slightly silly, and unrelated to the text. The characters in them are labeled with names and titles: they are contemporary people from Picardy, presumably friends and acquaintances of the patron. It is interesting to note that in this case, the labeling is the only thing that sets apart these “portraits” from the drolleries: the characters are indistinguishable, pictured in similar dress and poses, aside from the fact that the portraits are labeled. It is almost as if the labels had been added afterwards, with the identifications serving to further amuse the patron.  In this example the labels do not denote an illustration that is intrinsically more significant than the others, but rather, the addition of the label itself is what confers special, personal meaning to an otherwise mundane drollery.

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f86, BNF Lat 10435, Psalter, Northern France,1275-1300

My tentative conclusion to this exploration is that the scenes which take place in the upper and lower margins of Q13 may be actual illustrations of significant material, which may be direct illustrations of the main text, or may tell a completely different story like the proverbs of BNF NAL 3134. The figures in the side margins, however, may very well be pure drollery. They keep with the nude bathing theme of Q13, in the same way that the characters dressed as nuns in the drolleries of books of Hours echo its religious content, but like the playful nuns, they are not an illustration of the text. The labels are the only thing that differentiate them from the nymphs in the upper and lower margins, just like the characters which populate the margins of BNF Lat 10435.

Further support for the idea that the lateral marginal nymphs of Q13M are drolleries is the fact that the side-margin figures tend to recur: the ring bearer, the Thing holder, etc, are repeated and also their poses are repeated even when the objects they hold vary. Jean Wirth, in his massive tome¹ about drolleries, laid down the rules of drollery identification. Among them, the following one is particularly useful here: “We shall therefore establish a second rule for interpretation: The possibility of an allusion is inversely proportional to the frequency of the iconographic motif” (p.21): in other words, the more often a marginal figure’s form is repeated within a manuscript, the higher the probability that it does not in fact allude to anything significant. This runs counter to the way the Q13M nymphs have been analyzed so far, including in my own initial post on this blog: the impulse is to think that if a form is occurs repeatedly, it must be significant. In the world of drolleries, the opposite is true.

We can easily see this in the repetition of nearly identical figures in the side margins of the manuscripts shown in my previous post, which are meaningless, while the one-off depiction of a scene (usually in the bas-de-page) is generally significant, either connected to the main text or to another narrative or reference.

How does this help us with the Voynich manuscript? The repeated motif of unlabeled nymphs brandishing objects in the side margins of Q13M also seems to point towards their lack of allusion to a reference, either within the text or outside of it. The very unique, labeled scenes that take place in the larger, more populous illustrations in the upper and lower margins of Q13M, however, are much more likely to be references to something within the text, to other texts, or to real people and cultural references relevant to the place and time of the manuscript’s manufacture.

¹Wirth, J; Les Marges à drôleries des manuscrits gothiques, Droz, 2008.


Voynich Quire 13M: Very Droll?


The illustrations in Quire 13 have inspired many interpretations and theories over the years, often based on the assumption that these images are directly related to the subject matter of the text, that they literally illustrate the text.

What I would like to explore here is the possibility that they might not. Or at least, not really. It might seem like an unpleasant perspective, and it is not something that I myself am convinced of. But it seems to me that Voynicheros, myself included, have wanted so badly to try to glean insight on the text from any possible visual clue in MS408’s pages, that we have turned a blind eye to the possibility that the marginal illustrations in Q13M might not in fact illustrate the text. They seem so lively and well thought out, and some of them recur throughout the quire: surely they must help us shed light on the neighboring text? Maybe not.

As I explored in a recent post, fluid flows in the marginal Psalters evolved from a literal depiction of Biblical passages to a decorative framing device, which did not necessarily reflect anything in the text. In this post, I will present some elements that suggest that the nymphs and the various contraptions in the margins of Q13M could similarly be quite far removed from any relevance to the text, but might instead serve as a decorative and amusing framing device. I was prompted to take this journey when noticing that in several manuscripts, fluid flows were quite often part of framing systems which included drolleries.

Fluid flows as framing devices in the drolleries of Bodleian MS Douce 6, Book of Hours, 1320-1330, Ghent.

The general layout of the Q13M illustrations, the poses and actions of the people depicted in the margins, and some of their stylistic elements, actually fit rather well into the medieval genre of manuscript illustrations known as drolleries.

Evolving out of the practice of marginal annotations and drawings, marginal illuminations can reflect a range of styles, from minimally embellished initials and bar borders only, to entire frames of densely woven flowers and curlicues that form a full rectangle of ornamentation around the text.

What we see in the Voynich corresponds to neither of these extremes: the lateral marginalia in Q13M are mostly isolated little scenes, which are not set against a florid or geometric background but appear in a limited decor of tubes and flows which the “nymphs” interact with. Their actions appear purposeful, yet inexplicable, almost absurd.

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Morgan MS 854, f186v, Burgos, c.1470

Where could this all fit into medieval art history? It might be placed within the tradition of drolleries and other pleasantries and grotesques in medieval manuscripts, which departed from the other genres of marginalia and of miniature illustration and brought to life the previously boring margins and bas-de-pages, a trend that would later lead to the advent of the first Genre paintings in the Netherlands, and eventually inspire Bosch.

Drolleries were a fashion in manuscript illumination which were in style roughly from the 13thC to the late 15thC, originating in England and rapidly spreading to what are today France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Germany, then Spain and beyond. According to Erwin Panofsky¹: “Among the most impressive and engaging English inventions…are the drolleries. Based on the fables or the exempla used by preachers but as often derived from actual experience or sheer imagination… they run the whole gamut from sharply observed reality to the grotesque, the scurrilous and the fantasmagoric”.

Michael Camille analyses the spirit and intent behind the drollery in a dedicated study². Camille refers to the art of the margins as “the pregnant page” (p.48), and tells us that “marginal art is about the anxiety of nomination and the problem of signifying nothing in order to give birth to meaning at the centre”. I will be examining Q13M as a collection of such “pregnant pages”: if they are drolleries, can examining the Q13M drawings still give us any insights about the main text? Yes, albeit in a roundabout, limited way.

The illuminators enhanced marginalia with human and animal figures that typically presented a silly or humorous appearance, hence their name. Often, these were human-animal hybrids, or human-plant hybrids, although plain humans and especially human nudity were a regular theme. Frequently, they were engaged in nonsensical, grotesque or slightly naughty activities. Depending on the patron’s wishes and the artist’s inspiration, the drolleries could range from charming to absurd to obscene, or thinly veiled political allusions. They rarely had any relation to the text, or only in the vaguest sense: they certainly were never simply illustrations of the text’s content.


But sometimes drolleries did relate to the text, they just did so in a playful way: For an insight into how this worked, I turn to an example provided in Camille’s study: “Below Psalm 67, a young male figure bends over to expose his buttocks to the lance of an equestrian monkey. This might be a play on the word iuvencularum on the line above (iuvenis, young man, combined with cul)” (p.43). It might be that the Voynich Q13M margins “illustrate” the text in a similar way: by playing with homophony.

It may seem a bit anticlimactic to consider that the marginal figures in Q13M could be related to such a whimsical collection of jokes and puns. By comparison with the rest of the Voynich manuscript, the layout of the Q13M illustrations perfectly mirrors Panofsky’s observations about English drolleries: “In the same schools in which we find drolleries at their liveliest… in the same manuscript, the principal pictures are dominated by a solemn formality approaching the hieratic”. This contrast is also true of the Voynich, where outside of Q13M marginalia, the other illustrations are marked by exactly this type of stiffness, an observation I had already made in my post discussing the reordering of Q13 and the difference between the active, vigorous nymphs of 13M and the more static ones bathing in the 13C pages, but it is more widely true if we compare them to the figures which populate the rest of the manuscript.

The iconography of drolleries and other marginal amusements, can shed light on the influences behind the Voynich marginal illustrations. They help to make sense of the nudity, the angry hairdressing, the spindles and the giant rings and even the unidentifiable animal: hybrid and fantastical animals were very common in drolleries.


The drollerie happens within a marginal context which reflects the style of its time: the first drolleries appear as isolated figures against the bare page, whereas later on, as the margins become more filled with ornamentation, they appear within broad, intricately decorated backgrounds and bas-de-pages.

The type of marginal illustration placement we see in the Voynich and the nymphs’ engagement within a limited environment of pedestals, tubs and tubes, with some more extensive upper and lower margin scenes, corresponds to an intermediate style of drollerie: the text is not entirely enclosed by a marginal frame, nor are the marginal illustrations limited to ornate initials, curlicue bands or bar borders.

Studying the history of marginalia, one place where we find manuscripts with identical organization of marginal character placement is in some of the drollerie-rich MS’s of the early 14th C from Northern France and Flanders, and especially the region of Ghent. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these.

Providing a rare example of water pumps used as marginalia decorations, a Book of Hours described as “in an example of abject mechanical magic… cooking pots boil and pour water of their own accord” (Camille, op.cit, p.50). Nothing to do with the Hours of the Holy Spirit in the text: if anything, the drolleries are an inversion of it, providing the absurd as a remedy to the serious theological subject.

These bas-de-pages don’t illustrate a treatise on hydrodynamics, but a Book of Hours.  F91v-92r, Morgan MS754, Northern France, c1325
This nude woman with a spindle is just there for our amusement. So is the fragrant vase nearby.

Life in the lateral margins is not really about the text. It is meant to be a whimsical distraction which may in some way relate to the text but only in the vaguest way: in Walters MS 87, none of the scenes being played out in the margins relate to the text of this Book of Hours in any way other than the fact that the figures are sometimes dressed as priests and nuns. The marginalia are not an illustration of the adjacent text in the Book of Hours at all.

Walters MS 87 offers a wealth of examples of marginal figures placed on the upper left hand corner of the page with one outstretched arm brandishing an object, very reminiscent of the placement and attitude of several Voynich Q13M nymphs:

Walters MS 87, Ghent, 1315 (the lower right image is a bas-de-page, which again, bears no relation to the text)

Drolleries from the region of Ghent also provide interesting parallels with the way the nymphs interact with the pipes in Q13. If we replace the tendrils in the pictures below with tubes, the poses are very similar to the Voynich marginalia ones interacting with their pipes, as is the idea of the characters emerging from funnel shaped plant parts and calyxes, or resting on blue shapes with dotted ornamentation.

Marginalia, Walters 166, Book of Hours of Daniel Rym, Ghent, 1425: swap the tendrils for tubes, and these could be Q13M nymph poses

As many have remarked, the bodies of the Voynich nymphs appear oddly misshapen, and Koen Gh. demonstrated in a post to the forum (also see his blog), the proportions of the Voynich nymph’s bodies are unusual, and appear to be both childlike, somewhat androgynous yet possibly pregnant. This might also reflect the influence of a drollerie model, where nudes, including nude children, are frequently depicted, and because in drolleries, human beauty is really not a focus: on the contrary, misshapen bodies add to the amusement.

Again, just to be clear, I am not 100% convinced that the lateral margin illustrations of Q13M are meaningless: I just want to really explore what happens if we consider them as drolleries. Drolleries sometimes did convey meaning: I will be looking into that in the next post.

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P; 329, Bibliotheque Municipale d’Aix-en-Provence, MS 0022, Book of Hours, use of Rouen, 1460-1470

¹ Panofsky, E; Three Essays on Style, 1997, p.144

² Camille, M; Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art, 1992.


The Voynich Shallows

Good friend, first consider one of the things I have noted, for it explains the shallows“.

Piri Reis, introductory poem to the Kitab al-Bahriye.

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The great Turkish seafarer Piri Reis, in his book Kitab al-Bahriye, or Book of Navigation (1521), describes the waters and ports of the Mediterranean. Reading this book led me to a very simple observation, which could provide insight into one of the roundels of the nine-rosette foldout. .

Portolan charts have already been mentioned by others in comparison with the Voynich 9 rosette foldout page, but the quest to match the castles and structures to specific places has led to a neglect of the language of maps itself: topographic markings. I believe one of these markings can shed light on a small but significant aspect of the Voynich upper right rosette, where a castle is depicted.

Many have noted that the castle appears to be by the sea, and indeed there are wave-like forms beyond what appears to be a breakwater. However, at the center of the rosette, there are no waves: the area is marked by a field of asterisk-like stars. “The reason for this my friend is that there are never waves in these shallows… Because these seas are shallow, waves cannot extend: such places devour the waves“, Piri Reis explains.

The coast of Apulia, Italy, in the Kitab al-Bahriye

In the Kitab al-Bahriye, dots represent places where the water is shallow, either sandy or with underlying reefs . Crosses represent areas where the water is not only shallow, but where the underlying rocks and/or reefs make it impossible for big ships to pass safely (Piri Reis does not distinguish between shallow rocks and reefs: both had the same effect on ships, which was his main concern). Of course, the Kitab al Bahriye  was written almost a century after the Voynich manuscript. However, Piri Reis tells us that “Hidden reefs in the sea since ancient times have been shown by means of crosses“.

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Rocky shallows off the Tunisian coast on the Carta Pisana

Indeed we find the crosses in many navigation maps from centuries prior, including the 13thC Carta Pisana, BNF  Res. Ge. B1118, thought to be the oldest extant portolan chart, as well as in the 15thC Italian map labeled HM1548 at the Bancroft Library, among others.

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Egyptian coast east of the Nile, with shallow harbors and rocks, in HM1548

The dots and crosses can be arranged in a linear fashion or to form various geometric motifs, but this in itself bears no significance, and the same harbor or bay can be shown on various maps with dots arranged either in lines or in circles or in other shapes.

Therefore, it is highly likely that the spiral impression in the Voynich illustration (which, by the way, only proceeds from the layout of the line of text, and not from the actual layout of the field of asterisks) is not significant: in actual maps, the geometric motifs formed by the marks serve purely aesthetic purposes such as in the examples from the Kitab al-Bahriye below.

My simple point in this post then is that if the 9-rosette foldout shows a map, then cartographic standards would lead me to interpret the field of asterisks as marking a shallow water area, possibly one which contains reefs or rocks.

Interestingly, to this day, the USGS and FAO use the exact same markings as those in the Voynich for exactly the same topographical feature!

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If in fact the markings in the castle rosette are meant to convey the same thing as those on navigation maps, we can know one thing about the Voynich castle: Whether it is real or mythical, the waters there are shallow and possibly full of rocks, perhaps so much so that big ships cannot enter the bay.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the spiral line of text in the center contained words like “shallow”, “rocks” “reef”, or even “dangerous” …

Marginal Psalters: Addendum

It has just come to my attention that there is one more marginal Psalter in existence: BL Add. Ms. 40731. Like most of the others in this group, it was produced in Constantinople in the 11th century. Although it has been cropped and the illuminations have faded quite badly in places, it features a few details that I thought made it worthy of its own post.

Although it is less water-oriented than the others in this group, it does present the classical depiction of river personifications in several folios.

It also presents the same characteristic use of fluids as a framing device, but more often than in the other manuscripts from this group, the source of the water is portrayed as a natural spring, with the water originating in a rocky outcrop:

However, one of the illustrations really stood out, as it represents the source of the fluid in a way that is distinct from all the others, and which I believe Voynich researchers will find very interesting.

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A similar structure is also found as a fountain from which a deer is drinking:

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This Psalter’s illustrator thus alternated between several ways of depicting the source of fluids: either personified, natural, or mechanical. In the Voynich, might we be witnessing a superposition/combination of the three?

Also of interest is the image of Jesus calming the storm, in which the storm is also personified. The personification is indistinguishable from that of other fluid-bearers, but the representation of the fluid issuing forth (wind?) is markedly different, in its lines, color and orientation:

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The manuscript also features an interesting depiction of the night sky above what the BL describes as a depiction of sunset:

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Finally, I found this image quite intriguing, and the BL offers no explanation for the red stars in the clouds beneath the image of Christ carried up to the Heavens or for the red dots falling from the sky. What are those?

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I must admit that I lack the skills to read the Greek labels beside these illustrations. If anyone would like to offer translations, they would be most welcome!