Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Ars Notoria, sive Flores Aurei

Browsing through the Beinecke Library alchemy works collection I was struck by similarities between two pages  of Ars Notoria (Mellon MS 1 here) and the Voynich manuscript f86r.

Ars Notoria contains prayers mixed with magic words (mostly made-up names). The book was not favored by the church, but was present in the inventory of Canterbury, Charles VI of France, the Dukes of Milan and was heavily researched in Bohemia by Mattheus Beran at the very beginning of the 15th century ( here).

Beinecke Library also owns a fine copy of the Ripley Scroll (Mellon MS 41 here) were we find alchemy process illustrated by eight circles  pointing to ninth one in the center, which reminds of the 'nine rosette' VMS f86v.  Similar 9-circles configuration is also found in 17th century alchemy book woodcut (Beinecke, Z92 15 here).

Similarities of the Voynich manuscript with alchemy works seems to be bad news for researchers (especially when magic words are involved).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit

While researching the historical context of the early15th century when the (Voynich Manuscript parchment was produced) one cannot ignore some similarities with the German  Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigket. The alchemical treatise earliest version is dated between 1410-1419. It is a successful attempt to mainstream  the alchemy by connecting it to Christian story-telling.   To illustrate the similarities with the Voynich manuscript I used the Rylands University Library copy where we find bathing ladies involved in silver and gold production here and the Bayerische Staatsbiliothek copy where we find a very Voynichese beast here.

The symbolism in the pictures and the silly rhymes of the text hardly make sense today, but the VMS author lived in environment where treatises like Buch der Something were made by top-edge "scientists" with knowledge of chemistry and astronomy and taste for mysticism.  Science had changed since then. One thing, though, is timeless - the realization that to advance an idea the author should pay tribute to the ruling dogma - whether it is the Holy Trinity or global warming - the bow to the mainstream always pays off.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Brass Inkwell

The materials analysis of the Voynich Manuscript done in 2009 (read here) discovers that the author may have used brass inkwell while creating the book:
Iron gall inks normally contain iron, sulfur and carbon, and  frequently potassium. Small amounts of copper and zinc are little unusual. Sources for these elements may be as minor contaminants in the iron source, or possibly due to the use of a brass inkwell; the actual source is unknown.
While the contamination theory as boring as it is may be the likely truth, the brass inkwell suggestion makes much more interesting story.

Quick research in the inventory of some major museums shows that brass inkwells 15th century and older in their possession come from Iran (Mesopotamia in general). Few of them have the Zodiac engravings like these two found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (here and here)

Christi's sold a Flemish brass inkwell from that period. In 15th century Europe the centers for brass production were Belgium and Germany - they supplied mostly the church - brass was somewhat a precious metal at the time. Brass production in Europe generally declined after the fall of the Roman Empire. 

Brass inkwell in 15th century would be a luxury item in Europe. Most of the fancy European inkwells of the time I found in the museum were bronze, silver-plated, leather or ceramic.

So if we ignore for a moment the likely true (but boring) explanation about the copper and zinc in the ink - we can dream about VMS European author with brass inkwell who is wealthy enough to afford such luxury, may be associated with the church, may be located in Belgium or Germany, may be in possession of imported inkwell from Mesopotamia, may be interested in brass as part of his/her alchemy work.

So, the little frivolous remark that the ink researcher made while analyzing the Voynich manuscript materials  makes a nice story... as always it doesn't move us any closer to the solution.