Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: the Brass Mortar

The idea about the use of brass inkwell by the scribes who created the Voynich manuscript comes from the 2009 materials analysis  (read here):
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.
 The copper and zinc may have other sources. How about using of brass mortar to crash the oak galls into ink?

This beautiful mortar comes from Austria, around 1451, and today belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (here)

Probably accidently this mortar has a frog ornament that looks very close to a drawing in the Voynich manuscript f 101v.

The use of brass mortar in medicinal recipes is described in 14th century British manuscript
called The Physicians of Myddvai (or Meddygon Myddfai) here.

...Get linseed, pound in a brass mortar, make an emulsion therefrom with pure water, boiling it as you do porridge...
...Take a handful of mallows, of snails shells, of pennywort and linseed, pound them in a brass mortar...
The physicians also used brass pots, vessels and basins.


  1. According to the Met Museum the mortar is dated 1451. It belonged to the Austrian Fröschl of Marzoll family - the frog is their coat-of-arms.
    They lived in the spa-town Bad Reichenhall. They made their money from salt production. The guy with the chain on the mortar is St. Leonard - patron of the prisoners. The others are St. Rupert - who introduced the slat industry to Salzburg, St Virgil, who founded the cathedral in Salzburg, also the Virgin and the Child.

    1. I love this frog. Are you suggesting there may be a connection between the balneo folios and the Bad Reichenhall spa?

    2. I love this frog. Are you suggesting there may be a connection between the balneo folios and the Bad Reichenhall spa?

    3. Thanks Julian. I am not so brave to suggest this mortar has anything to do with the VMS. It is a popular way to draw a frog.
      However, just for fun, Old wealthy family... spas around... among the Fröschl - there is one archbishop of Passau...

      Unfortunately the frog is like the stars and like the Suns in the VMS - everybody drew them the same way.

  2. I know very little of European history -- but I am always curious about coinciding history. So, Rudolph II's Austrian cousin Ferdinand III eventually ended up with a huge chunk of the Bohemian crown properties. Much of Rudolph II's cabinets of Curiousities and family "heirlooms" eventually ended up in the "Holy Roman Empire's Papal archives in Rome and Frascati.

    Have you had an opportunity to read the biography of Athanasius Kircher's father, and the sponsorship Athanasius received from the noble family of Heileganstadt?

    Oh, the Met is fabulous, no matter what way one might be visiting! What is interesting is that I was not able to find much discussion about the mandragore/mandrake plant nor much discussion at all for the Solanacae. I probably need to find the Met's herb garden. I go!

    1. The herbs are time consuming effort. Good luck!

  3. The frog really does look similar to that in the Voynich 'pharma' section. Nice find!

    I'm not sure, though, that mortars of this kind were used for making inks, or using as inkwells.

    Still, worth it just for the frog. It would also be interesting to see what a trawl of the BritLib's manuscripts turns up by way of comparative examples.

    Another item on the 'to-do' list. Thanks, Ellie.


  4. Oh - by the way. Things do get confused in Europe, it's true, but not always. Since number was considered deeply meaningful within a world supposed 'ordered by weight and number' by divine intention, so the number of points given stars (especially in the earlier medieval era and the older east) was not drawn any-old-how, and you will not find an Egyptians' figure for a star having any more or fewer points than five. Similarly the Syrian star normally has six points, though for indicating a star linked to a given country, they could use that country's convention.

    But, it's true that western scribes didn't always 'get it'. In a manuscript of Martin of Tours' de Cursum stellarum, for example, we seem to be seeing points used a little in the way modern astronomical charts do, to indicate relative magnitude.

    In the Vms, the default type is the Syrian star, drawn with a central dot to make it more nearly resemble a flower.

    So as it happens, people didn't always draw stars the same way.


  5. *Gregory of Tours" - what was I thinking of?