Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Voynich Manuscript: Fornovo,Mantua...Parma,Modena and Ferrara

What happened to the book with naked women captured in King Charles VIII tent during the battle of Fornovo 1495? According to Julia Mary Cartwrite Ady in her book Isabella D'Este, Marchioness of Mantua the famous book (described by  Alessandro Beneditti as ' 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') ended with the Gonzaga family in Mantua:

The Dukes of Mantua had long-lasting relationship with the Holy Roman Emeprors - including royal marriages. So it is possible that the book ended up at some point in Prague - as a present or dowry.

In spectacular coincidence the Fornovo book and the Voynich manuscript share in common not only the naked women feature, but also a geographic location (at different point in time).
According to 1921 article in The New York Times Mr. Voynich discovered the famous unreadable manuscript in a lot from collections of the Dukes of Parma, Ferrara and Modena:

Fornovo is a province of Parma and the Google map shows that Mantua is not too far away either. In the scale of all Europe, it is basically - the same place.

The Voynichese location is probably just a coincidence. From the Prague correspondence we know that the Voynich manuscript was separately sent  to Athanasius Kircher (read all the letters at Philip Neal's site here).

However, just for fun, we can imagine that somebody from the area between Fornovo/Parma, Mantua and Ferrara recognized the Voynich manuscript as belonging to this area and Kircher was happy to get rid of the unsolvable book.

UPDATE. The same author  Julia Cartwrite mentions the Fornovo book in another work - Beatrice D'Este Duchess of Milan (read here ) :

Among the spoils sent to Mantua were a magnificent set of embroidered hangings from the royal tent, and a curious book of paintings, containing portraits of the chief Italian beauties who had fascinated King Charles.
Isabella D'Este protested against her husband wishes to give the tapestries to her sister Beatrice in a letter quoted in the same book which shows that she insisted the spoils to be kept in Mantua: 

Your Excellency has desired me to send the four pieces of drapery that belonged to the French king, in order that you may present them to the Duchess of Milan. I of course obey you, but in this instance I must say I do it with great reluctance, as I think these royal spoils ought to remain in our family, in perpetual memory of your glorious deeds, of which we have no other record here.
The footnotes in both books show that Julia Cratwrite used the work of the Italian archivist Alessandro Luzio as source for the history of the trophies from the battle of Fornovo. 


  1. Hi Ellie.
    You are far from the truth. Ellie, Jew Habdank Voynich decipher the handwriting. It says in the letter. ( letter - Beinecke)

  2. Ellie,
    While you were cruising Mr. Neal's fabulous archive, were you able to find any correspondence referring to Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq? Busbecq was ambassador to Ferdinand I of Austria. Much of Rudolph's/Mattias' diplomatic correspondence would have ended up in Ferdinand's archives following the paths of two wars (I think. I missed much of the lectures on World History because my teacher spoke gutteral English and didn't move his lips enough for me to translate. Frustrating, to say the least.)

  3. Hi Josef, what letter is this? What is the deciphered text about?

  4. Hi BD, sorry, I don't recall reading about him, but I'll keep an eye next time I go over the correspondence.

  5. Well... if it did end up in Isabella d'Este's library at Mantua, I couldn't see it listed in the M1 and M2 partial Madrid inventories, but perhaps it's elsewhere (the Ischia inventory is apparently long lost). All the same, it might have seemed a little out of place in her studiolo!

  6. So, Ellie, NickP, ProfZ:

    I refer you to some fairly recent discussion in re Busbecq, Clusius:

    I've just misplaced a note in re Nicolas Michault (Busbecq's student) - Imperial Ambasador to Portuguese Court........

    So far, I don't think I'm wandering too far from the possible origins of the Vms.

    I returned from my local library yesterday with 4 two-inch thick volumes of European/Turk history -- fascinating!


  7. Although I try not to stir the flames of controversy or fanaticism, I admit that ProfZ is right as far as who built Hradczany, long before Rudolph's time. :)

  8. Hi Ellie. ( Elisabeth ??)
    All the work on the manuscript. They say that the Voynich for thirty years not decoded.

    ( Letter - correspondence = Beincke Library).
    Letter to Voynich paper that is signed E-L-Voynich.
    He says clearly that the manuscript is Czech ! It is written in the letter ! ( The letter is very important). The letter is encrypted.

    I have it on a blog.

    Otherwise, I see that bilder in Bohemia.

  9. Hi bdid1 .
    I'm always right. In the manuscript there is no Karlštejn castle. Castle whiich is drawn on a large parchment. Is called Rosenberg. As the owner.
    The castle is preserved. He was destroyed. Only the tower remained. Tower name Jakobinka.

    All this explains on his blog.

  10. Sory .
    The castle is not preserved. He was destroyed.

  11. Hi Nick, thanks for the link! I don't see any nudes (or herbals for that matter) in this inventory. What caught my eyes is M2 8 - anthology of poetry in French by Joan Michael. As I understand the record the Joan Michael was 'cantor del signore Duca de Ferrara', so it is probably not the Jehan Michel (personal physician/astrologer/poet/prophet of Charles VIII ), but who knows may be they snatched his poetry too at Fornovo :) There is no reference to current MS library number - does it mean that the French poetry book does not survive?

  12. Hi Josef, it is Elitsa (Bulgarian name).
    Thanks for the link! I know this letter. Do I understand correctly? Do you believe there is a hidden message in the text of this letter?
    Interesting. Give me some time to read about this and I will respond as soon as I can.
    All the best!

  13. Hi BD, thanks for the tour to my native Balkans :) How is this ambassador related to the VMs?

  14. Vms folio 116v: The first line of writing is referring to Ankara (however it would have been spelled in the 16th century). Ambassador de Busbecq may have been the "only" European in that part of the world prior to Suleiman's siege of Vienna. He has been documented by later historians as being the person who sent tulip bulbs to his close friend Clusius (Ecluse). Clusius, at that time, was teaching at Leyden.

    Lately, I've been translating various Vms folios which have just recently been released from the US Government's codebreaker files (Brigadier General John H. Tiltman's, so far). You and I have recently discussed one of them: 33v Scabiosa caucasica. Another from that area is the "Turban Ranunculus" (vms 49v), and a third is "Dianthus caryotides", Vms 56r.

    So far as I can see, if there was a code embedded in those discussions of the various plants, it was easily translated into the "universal" language of the times: Latin


  15. Balkan dancing: Forty years ago, I took folk dancing lessons from the Balkans (Neal Sandler was our teacher). We learned dances from Macedonia, Serbia, Anatolia, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and even one or two from Czechoslovakia.....

    Kacerak, Serbianka, Ali Pasha, Ikariotika, Lesnoto, Zonorotiko, Cretiko Syrto.......and a "song and dance" from the 1920's called Misirlou. A whole lot of "peace-keeping" effort when into Neal Sandler's teaching. He died recently.

  16. Hi BD, on fol 116v there is a word similar to 'portad' - Spanish for gate if I am not mistaken - maybe the Ottoman High Porte?

  17. Hi Nick, this inventory is of different Isabella if I am not mistaken. This one went to Ferrara in exile. Isbella d'Este was born there and married Francesco Gonzaga in 1480 - since then she was in Mantua - most of the time. Do you know how to find inventory of the Dukes of Mantua?

  18. Ogier Ghiselen de Busbecq apparently traveled far and wide in Suleiman's domain. He not only discusses various botanical items, but also talks about a ruin he visited where the wall interiors were inscribed with memorial texts dedicated to Alexander.

    Yesterday, I tried to translate the rest of folio 116v (around and through the various tears, wrinkles, and holes) to little avail. What I am planning next is to attempt (once more) another visit with Leiden University's Clusius material. Clusius was a close friend of Busbecq, and was the recipient of the first tulip bulbs sent to him by Busbecq. (This latest info from me is from a 12-inch high stack of books (history & botanical) and about six hours worth of on-line exploration. FUN!

  19. Continuing my explorations, I am returning to folio 49v (turban ranunculus) where references are made, beginning with the very first line of text:

    Es-pecies tele-crocus-ceox-especies-telecox-ce-e-sp-e-ceus.

    Numbered line 3 is interesting because it begins with G/K-otl-o-aes-e-cro-co-ce-o-ll-x-aes-a-TIUS

    I emphasize the last syllable because that particular notation is not often seen, but indicates the word ending "tius". I guess a good example would be the name "Ignatius".

    "Somewhere" on the web is a good discussion of scribal "shorthand" ciphers. I can't find the reference, but take a good look the the numbered line I have just referred. I'm pretty sure you will find it faster than I did! One more thing: I have found that strange character usually appears as the last word of a sentence which is often the last sentence of the paragraph.


  20. Numbered line 7: ranun-qollr-ec-o-aes-an-aes-o-x

  21. Ellie, I apologize for the somewhat garbled translation I've been offering. I am just very excited about finding the "clue" in Vms folio 116v (only the topmost line was legible enough to make any sense of that last page). The word that keeps getting mis-read is "Ancyones". Ancyones is identified as a Turkish province aka: Ancyra, or Ancyranus, or Monumentum Ancyranum (an important record of the reign of Augustus found at Ancyra). Today, we call that region Ankara/Angora.
    So, try to get past the "nihil obstat" mis-reading -- and, maybe focus on the comings and goings and communications between Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (imported bulbs from Turkey) and Carolus Clusius (aka d'Ecluse).
    Busbecq and Clusius are mostly famous for introducing the tulip to the "Low lands" of Europe. I suspect that the "Turban Ranunculus" (Vms folio 49v) and the carnation/pink/sweet william ("Dianthus" vms 56r) were also "imported by Busbecq via Clusius, who was teaching botany at Leiden University. Clusius, early in his career, worked for Rudolph II.

    You may want to see what Bill Thayer has to offer in re Greek and Roman Classic history: University of Chicago (or Chicago University) You might even get an email response from him (I think he is semi-retired but maintains his extensive webpage offerings.

  22. Ellie,
    See comment and hyperlink I just posted on your "missing code-book" discussion. White lettering on black (photo/facsimiles) of deBusbecq/Clusius correspondence in Leiden University's Clusius archive.