Monday, May 27, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: The Book of Charles VIII

Christopher Hibbert - historian and biographer - writes in two of his books (The Borgias and their Enemies:1431-1519 and The House of Medici: its Rise and Fall) about a curious event during the battle of Fornovo. The Holy League under the command of Francesco Gonzaga is claiming victory because they captured the French King Charles VIII' baggage train. Among the trophies is a book depicting naked women.

Can this book depicting naked women at various times and various places be the Voynich Manuscript?

Before you start laughing, think on the following question: why none of the Prague correspondence regarding the Voynich Manuscript mentions the fact that the book does contain numerous naked woman  bodies?

The answer likely is that the Prague scholars were trying to present the book as favorable as they can in front of such prominent scholar as Athanasius Kircher.(Read all the letters posted on Philip Neal's site here )

Now imagine that Franchesco Gonzaga is holding the Voynich Manuscript after the battle of Fornovo and does exactly the opposite of the Prague scholars - he omits mentioning the herbal sections, because he wants to use the naked women painted at various times (the VMs months) and at various places (bathtubs and elsewhere) to degrade and insult the King of France Charles VIII. The attitude of the VMs ladies is declared lascivious and the anatomical drawings (among them male genitalia, supposedly) is declared to be 'sketches of intercourse'. Thus one of the greatest smears in history is commited.

The Book with the naked women is then presented to the Pope along with the relics. The Pope's name is Alexander VI - Rodrigo Borgia. He is Catalan, so is his son Cardinal Borgia. While laughing at the VMs and wondering what exactly the book represents somebody writes the name of the months in the Voynich Manuscript... in Catalan, according to Sean Palmer (visit his work here ).

Let's look at the map of Charles VIII Italian War - 1494-1495.

Among the first stops in the campaign is Pavia, where Charles VIII meets Ludovico Sforza, who is accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci, according to Charles Heaton's Leonardo da Vinci and his Works.

Imagine that you are physician and up until yesterday you were drawing knotgrass and cannabis pictures and suddenly you are in the middle of the meeting between Leonardo and Della Torre. This may inspire you to attempt some anatomy too.

The beginning of the Charles VIII Italian War is in Savoy. Just few years earlier the Duke of Savoy commissioned Jean Colombe to work on the unfinished manuscript Tre Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

As a person with interest in nature you don't pay attention to the exotic clothes on fol. 51 of the famous book, but you notice the three animals painted on it.

So you draw the animals on fol 79v of the VMs. You also ad the creature painted by Jean Colombe on the Purgatory page of the Tre Riches.

Plus you have a taste for curvaceous women and Jean Colombe did paint the right curves for your taste.

Charles VIII campaign continues and all guns now are pointed at Rome where under the original ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - the stars on blue background - sits the Catalan Pope Alexander VI. Rome falls!

However, by the time the French reach Naples the coins start to flip and Charles VIII is now facing the Holy League on his way back across the Alps. At Fornovo your book is captured and used to smear publicly the King of France. It was supposed to be a treasury of natural knowledge acquired during long year of travel.

Now you can quit imagining and are free to go back to the boring reality - nobody knows how the book captured at Fornovo looked like. It is lost for the history.


  1. Ellie: a great story, at least as good as 90% of Voynich theories out there. And you never know, part of it might even be true! ;-)

  2. One primary source on that particular book is Alessandro Benedetti: "In that plunder I saw a book in which were painted various nude images of his mistresses, differing in appearance and age as his lust and insane love had impelled him in each city; these pictures he carried with him as souvenirs."

  3. Hi Nick, thanks for the link! Alessandro Benedetti was a doctor, so if he had seen the VMs he would have probably acknowledged the plants and medicine related properties of the book. Benedetti's account makes me think that Charles VIII book was what it is said to be - sex-trophy diary. Bummer! It makes such a fabulous story.

  4. The proportions of Jean Colombe's females are very like the Vms'. Interesting.

  5. Ellie

    Before you start laughing, think on the following question: why none of the Prague correspondence regarding the Voynich Manuscript mentions the fact that the book does contain numerous naked woman bodies?

    I'd suggest that the figures were recognised as not being naked women, but personifications and/or allegorical figures.

    Also - there's no indication that the copies sent to Kircher in the 1630s included any pictures, let alone those from the bathy- or meteorological sections.

    There were figures of naked or near-naked personifications all over Rome, not to mention classical statues and one's being created by contemporary artists copying classical exemplars.

    It was no big deal.


  6. Ellie & Nick, don't stop the dialogue yet! Several weeks ago I referred folks to an encyclopedia volume "The Renaissance Princes". Today, I went to the back pages of my copy of that book to check the chronology of 1490-1500. An item of particular note is:

    partial: ..."c.1490 Aldus Manutius founds Aldine Press - Isabella d'Este prepares her studio at Mantua's palace....

    1495 Francesco Gonzaga, leading anti-French league, defeats French in battle of Fornovo di Taro -- Isabella d'Este commissions Mantegna to paint commemorative work of Francesco's victory at Fornorvo"

    Perhaps there might be some "leads" down Charles VIII's warpath?


  7. Hi BD, I like Mantagena's Madonna della vittoria. Beautiful coral in it.,_madonna_della_vittoria.jpg

  8. Hi Diane,
    Georgius Barschius to Athanasius Kircher (1637):
    "From the pictures of herbs, of which there are a great many in the codex, and of varied images, stars and other things bearing the appearance of chemical symbolism, it is my guess that the whole thing is medical"

    Apparently the naked women are included in "various images". There is no mention of them in any shape or form in the correspondence. You may be right - maybe it just wasn't a big deal for them. Still, there is a lot of naked women in the VMs - it is hard to ignore :)

  9. Ellie,

    I'll go along with Barschius' probable "diagnosis" of the whole sections of the Vms which deal entirely with "nymphae". Just this a.m. (since my previous post, above), I have found a fantastic website which not only deals with GREEK mythology but discusses the Roman scholars/doctors adaptations and translations of various Greek legends/myths:

    Of course, I focused particularly on the discussion of the Alcyonides/Alkyonides, of which the first lengthy footnote discussion backs up my translation of Vms folio 86 r 3. and many of the preceding folio discussions (balnealogical, and dangerous botanicals, mandrake, for one) as well as antecedent folios. Fascinating! Now maybe we can actually find the writers/collaborators/collators of this fantastic "curiousity" known as the Voynich manuscript -- which I prefer to call Boenicke 408.

    I'm still going to try to find out more about Ceyx, Alcyone's/Alkyone's husband.

    Keep on keeping on! (I will too, as long as you encourage me!)


  10. Ellie and all interested: I apologize if I've confused some of the "history" which Philip Neal has so thoroughly and carefully presented. I think he now knows that I'm an admirer of his meticulous research and presentations.

    I'm hoping to clarify my reference, several days ago, of the major discovery of 14th/15th century manuscripts buried inside the walls of the Roman College when it was built onto by the developer/Pope into what is now known as the Gregorian University. That "remodeling" occured quite awhile before Athanasius Kircher arrived to take over his post as head of the Jesuit missionaries. So it is no wonder, to me at least, why Kircher seemed to be somewhat "clueless" about a huge gap in communications prior to his arrival.

    If he hasn't already done so, I hope Mr. Neal will be able to review the digitization project's huge "recovered" manuscript archive at the Gregorian University.

  11. Oops, I'll be correcting my timelines for the "remodeling" and
    "re-calendaring", and the "current events" of Kircher's arrival at what apparently was still the "Roman College". Thank you all for your patience with me!


  12. Well, a whole chunk of the Roman College's history seems to have been overlaid by the several remodelings and relocations of the "Gregorian University" -- and interruptions in the history of the College facility and the University's history due to the turmoil of World War I politics. Ellie, I won't on this page, go into my rant concerning the WW II bombing of Monte Cassino and the disappearance of a large part of its holdings shortly before the bombers flew over.

    Ennyway, I shall be visiting Phillip Neal's great archive again -- provided he is still providing access!

    I'm off to my favorite Greek food and dance festival this weekend. Cheers! Opa!

  13. Opa! I hope they have home-made baklava there!

  14. Hi Ellie,

    I think you might like to see what I did for R-Sale. He always wanted to know how white Aries starts out f71r.