Expert opinions: ‘Not one of mine’

Header Illustration: composite image. includes detail from Brit.Lib. Harley MS 5751  f.15
Two previous:

We are still considering the period 1912-2000, and matters other than ‘Voynichese’.

During those eighty years from 1912-2000,  scholars expert in one or another aspect of Europe’s intellectual and artistic heritage could suggest not a single close comparison for the Voynich manuscript’s content and imagery from among the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of Latins’ (western Christian) manuscripts they had seen – no matter what their area of specialisation,

It was always over the fence;  ‘someone else’s problem’.

This is an interval post – just a pause for perspective.

not GERMAN-CHRISTIAN ART – Panofsky and Petersen

Erwin Panofsky and Theodore Petersen specialised in the Christian art of medieval and (northern) Renaissance Germany.  Neither saw the manuscript as in that tradition.

In 1932, after spending two hours examining the manuscript in New York, Panofsky had correctly dated its manufacture: ‘1410-1420-1430’, an evaluation whose precision would not be matched until 2011, when radiocarbon dating returned the range 1404-1438.

Panofsky attributed  its content not to Christian-German work but to “the southwest corner of Europe: Spain, Portugal, Catalonia or Provence; but most probably Spain” and to a Judeo-Arabic cultural environment. His reasons for saying otherwise in writing answers for Friedman’s ‘quiz’ questions in 1954 have already been discussed.

For Panofsky’s dating see the letter of ‘E.L.V’ to Professor Thompson transcribed in ‘Correspondence’ at the end of my post ‘Expert Opinions – Richard Salomon‘. The original letter is in the Beinecke Library, Yale.

…… and Panofsky was the first to cite any specific comparison but – as would thereafter become a constant in discussions of this manuscript – he compared just a single detail in it with a single detail from another manuscript, and did not even suggest the comparison close enough to call a ‘match’.

As Nill later wrote, “except for one page partly taken from Alfonso’s manuscript,  [the Vms] was entirely unlike any manuscript known to him.”  The comparison was between one diagram from the Voynich calendar and one from Alfonso X‘s Libros del saber de astronomía.  That Panofsky knew the latter is an indication of his range, for it exists in a single manuscript, and that in Madrid.  Consider the range of exclusion implied.

 LATIN HANDS? – Salomon, Barrett and ‘not-saying-who’.

Richard Salomon, a specialist in Latin palaeography, recognised only one line of marginalia, which he read as medieval legal German – and whose date he then applied to the manuscript as a whole.

At that time, he had seen only a black and white photostat copy, and while an offer was made for him to see the original, I’ve found no record that he ever did.  His circumstances after 1932 were so disrupted and so distressing that he was never able to return to his chief area of interest, lacking access to appropriate texts and references.

Of the hand(s) within the main text, and of that which wrote the month-names, I’ve seen no evidence of his saying anything before or after 1932, though something may yet be found in others’ letters from him.

Some Voynich researchers have guessed a  Caroline hand; others as ‘influenced by the Humanist style’, but the specialists have said nothing, though not positively protesting Wilfrid’s opinion that the script was that of a thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman scholar.

Remarkably little time or attention was paid to this matter of palaeography, and for my knowledge of these views I am indebted first to Nick Pelling, and through him to the sources he cited, including Reeds’ mailing list and articles by Barbara Barrett.  Pelling disagreed with the latter, but for the sake of balance referred to Barrett’s views anyway.  Other sites have, since then, copied (and sometimes rightly attributed) the same material.
an insubstantial argument

I’ve recently seen it asserted,  with no evidence offered and my  request for directions to the original argument refused with some vigour,  that someone has argued a case for considering inscription of the German (and only the German) marginalia so closely contemporary with the rest of the work that we should believe  the whole manuscript to be, in some sense, a product of German culture.

Given the non-German month-inscriptions, the character of the imagery overall, the Italian binding of the book-block, the opinion of consummate experts with no ‘guess’ to grind… and so on, it is not an idea I’m willing to take on faith. Perhaps someone would like to raise the question on a forum? Do leave a comment if you find a clear answer.



Adam McLean, a specialist in the history of alchemy, responded as the experts do: “S.E.P”.  Since non-specialists enthusiastic about the ‘alchemy’ idea have continued to push it (though the radiocarbon dating silenced them for a time), I’ll reproduce McLean’s comments, taking them from  Dennis Stallings’ report to the second mailing list: (09:40 AM 11/19/98 -0600)

Dennis had said: ‘Hello, Adam!..  Mary D’Imperio, in her survey of VMs studies up to 1978, thought that alchemy might be the key to understanding the VMs.  However, current [mailing-list] members, including myself, see little if any alchemical content in the VMs.  None of us, however, are experts. What is your opinion on this.  What alchemical imagery can you see in the VMs?

to which Adam replied:

Dear Dennis

All I can say is that I have never seen an alchemical manuscript with the same imagery and pictures as are found in the Voynich. …The main ‘alchemical’ resonance is supposed to be the ‘balneological’ section, but here I find no parallels with alchemical manuscripts, except in a very general way. If this was an alchemical work one would expect to find some other alchemical manuscript with similar drawings – but I do not know of one. …  I have an open mind on the subject, but have yet to see any real parallels. Perhaps one day I will find a manuscript that I recognize has common features with the Voynich – but not so far. I don’t think I could  find any way at present to use alchemical manuscripts or ideas to throw light on the ‘Balneological section.

and then:

The plant drawings in  the ‘Herbal section’ have many forerunners some going back centuries before the Voynich, as has been extensively documented. [This is still widely believed, but the ‘documentation’ is less, and less solid, than most suppose].    The drawings in the Astronomical section again seem to have many parallels in known manuscripts. [widely believed but ill-supported by evidence].…  

.. but, once again, the expert’s view is ‘Not one of mine’. And rightly so.  A specialist cannot blur the lines between what is demonstrably true, and what is desired true by others. Not that the others necessarily take heed.

A list of alchemical mss in the British Library, from Adam McLean’s website

‘alchemical’ notion revives,  five years later… My apologies.

The ‘alchemical’ text notion – killed off after McLean’s expert dismissal in the 1990s – was well and truly dead in early 2013. Unfortunately in presenting the analytical-critical study for folio 4v,  I gave it a whimsical title, ‘Alchemy’s sweet scent’ as summary of my findings.  In short, that the plant-group referred to by the drawing was that of the eastern clematis and that what had previously been imagined a curious form for the root was, in fact, a depiction of the double gourd, whose place in culture and iconography of the regions from east Africa to southern China (essentially the medieval trade routes) I summarised and illustrated, mentioning that clematis was not much used in eastern medicine (nor was western clematis in the Latin tradition), but the wood and root of eastern species were used to make scented substances (perfumes and incense etc.), and when formed in metal the double-gourd was also used as a type of ‘small a‘ alchemical receiver, just as the ordinary sort was used for liquids.

As usual, I accompanied the point-by-point analysis  with comparative imagery, textual and cultural notes, and in this case additional comments on the trade in scents and scented materials into Cairo for the Mediterranean trade and, further, on the important role of mathematics in this sort of compounding. It had originated in India, and the Indian model was employed in Cairo too, so as illustration I included a table from the Brht Samhita.  Updating the botanical nomenclature was tiresome, but that was done too, and I cross-referenced any plants mentioned that I had previously identified in the botanical folios.

Being, from the first, under an informal ‘pay no attention’ ban by one of the most avid, and yet ill-equipped of the Voynicheros,  who found it helpful to read, download and then disseminate my results verbally as anonymous ‘ideas’  yet to be explored, I did not expect my  post to receive quite such widespread attention as it did.  It received swarms of readers, throughout the period from 2013 until I closed voynichimagery in 2017.  Imitators were numerous; some took this element from the post and some that, but among them a few were honest about their source, and others so inept that they brought a touch of humour.

One chap especially –  a wild fan of Edith Sherwood, Rene Zandbergen and Sergio Toresella – was helping in some project aimed at producing ‘The Official Voynich Herbal’. His job was to collect and collate others’ work, omitting such details and names as were considered unnecessary by the project’s unnamed director/s.

Since very little new work was being done, just then, this chap got into the habit of taking nothing from my latest post but the name of the plant-group I’d given for the folio, reducing the name for a group  to one name (to suit the western style of herbal),  stripping out all the informing commentary, textual, iconographic, historical and cultural notes, archaeological studies (for proof of location and period), historical botany and information on use which provided evidence for the identification I’d offered.

That done, he would leap up in the second mailing list about a day later and proclaim with many marks of exclamation that a ‘new identification’ had been made.  But in this case, he was faced with the fact that the European clematis had no place in the Latin pharmacopoeia, does not have a bell-shaped flower, nor narrow leaves. And double gourds aren’t exactly standard motifs in medieval Latin art, let alone to be seen in any of the herbals.

Rene Zandbergen (as I recall) kindly came to his rescue on the ‘gourd’ problem, showing an image of a vegetable garden in a copy of the Tacuinum sanitatis.  Soon afterwards, the lad adopted the ‘foxy’ tactic of applying some new identification of mine to a different folio… more or less at random. The manuscript’s study is not only corrupted, but actively hindered by such practices, whose only benefit is to lend spurious credibility to persons or theories which have not deserved them.  Lately, the most common tactic seems to be to use the mantra:  ‘synchronicity’.

Another chap became excited about the ‘perfume’ thing – though I did tell him that it wouldn’t do; the botanical section contains many more plants than were used in any sort of perfume, scented powder, or insect repellent ( a use I’d identified for another of the pictured plants, and which then synchronistically appeared in a post by Ellie Velinska, another close associate of the old guard but whom I’m inclined one of the several innocents who simply believed, when handed an ‘idea’ that it sprang fully formed from the donor’s imagination).

It proved impossible to stem the  ‘alchemical’ tide, to which that post seems to have acted as the bolt of electricity on Frankenstein’s monster, reviving the pile of dead matter abandoned since the 1990s.   All I could do, and did, was to remind people of the more modest matter in my original post, which I re-published in a condensed and clearer form two years later, on  23rd August, 2015, under the title  ‘Alchemy’s sweet scent made more readable’.

The manuscript deserves more respect than it receives when used only to puff theories or personal ambition.  The way my analysis of folio 4v was misused is just an example of the great many so used, whether my work or others’ – since the early 2000s, and largely why the study fails to advance.  I suppose the lesson for us all is not to buy second-hand ‘ideas’; demand the donor provide his/her primary evidence and explain to you in detail his/her line of reasoning.  If they can’t, it might be as well to  tell them to go away and do their own work for a change.



A LATIN/ARABIC or BYZANTINE HERBAL? H’hmm. – T.A. Sprague (and Alain Touwaide, 2015)


Dr. T. A. Sprague had travelled in the Americas as a botanist and as a taxonomist,  spent time in northern India and served for forty-five years as a member of staff at Kew gardens,  fifteen of them as Deputy Keeper of the Herbarium, and whose particular study of the  Anicia Juliana codex required thorough knowledge of the Greek, Latin and Arabic herbals and their vocabularies. In 1947, shown some photostat copies of the plant-pictures, Sprague  positively recoiled and railed at John Tiltman, “I have spent the last twenty years of my life trying to identify the plant drawings in the Juliana Anicia codex when the names of the plants are given in Greek, Latin and usually Arabic and you are asking me to identify these awful pictures.”   It seems clear that none of them looked immediately familiar.

Alain Touwaide (2015}

More recently (2015) Alain Touwaide, whose field of study covers the Latin, Arabic and Greek history of medicine, drugs, herbals and medical manuscripts , wrote a seventeen-page essay published by the Villa Mondragone in a volume now, alas, out of print.   There were no peer-reviews published in any Journal, so far as I can find, but the prominent enthusiast Rene Zandbergen sent a 1100-odd word summary-review to the late Stephen Bax’ site. The review began and ended with Zandbergen’s opinion that  Touwaide added ‘nothing new’ to the manuscript’s study but had repeatedly returned to the possibility that the manuscript might be a fake.

In which case of course it would be again (apparently) ‘someone else’s problem’.

  • Alain Touwaide,  ‘Il manoscritto piu misterioso – l’erbario Voynich’ in  Marina Formica (ed.), Villa Mondragone ‘Seconda Roma’, (2015) pp. 141-158. out of print.

I’m sorry to add that certain comparisons widely offered as closely similar to pages from the Vms, and in some cases attributed to Touwaide, do not bear close analysis, but perhaps I’ll return to that matter at a later stage.



Charles Singer, editor of an encyclopaedic  History of Technology had a number of ‘ideas’ about the manuscript, reported by d’Imperio.   None relate to the history of technology, or offer support for the ‘bathy-‘ section’s being describing a plumbing system.



D’Imperio reported that  “Singer sees tubes, pulpits and pipes as ‘organs of the body.'”  I’ve seen no evidence that he ever attempted to argue the case or –  more to out present point – that he offered a single text or illustration from the European corpus as comparison.  Nor, apparently, did his wife Dorothea suggest to him any among  the thousands she had inspected and catalogued in the British Library under the heading of Science and Pseudo-Science, as Lynn Thorndike reported in 1921.

D’Imperio seems to think little of Singer’s ‘biological’ idea,  saying in the same breath as she reports it that they recall ‘plant parts’ to her. (Elegant Enigma, p.21)

In recent years and beginning (so far as I can discover) with Ellie Velinska’s effort, this inherently anachronistic ‘biological’ notion – imagining the Vms contains biological drawings technical, and accurate to the microscope-level –  has proved intriguing for some, but once more none of the recent writers have produced –  no more than did Singer – any European manuscript or printed book made before 1438 which is claimed closely comparable.  Now that the manuscript has been dated, Singer’s notion is revealed to be, as one might say, anachronism of the first water.  🙂

  • On Singer see also Rich Santacoloma’s interesting research-post, ‘The Voynich in 1905′, (19th. August, 2012).




Lynn Thorndike who wrote a multi-volume history of medieval science and pseudo-sciences and had every reason, if he could, to set the Voynich manuscript squarely within a context that would refute Wilfrid’s ‘Roger Bacon’ guess, to which he felt great aversion, expressed more than once in print.

But Thorndike offered no such argument, and never produced any other manuscript as close comparison for anything in the Voynich manuscript.



ASTRONOMICAL/ASTROLOGICAL? – To my knowledge, the only specialist to offer a comparison with any astronomical/astrological manuscript between 1912 and 2000.was Panofsky (see above).


Summary: “Not one of mine” is what the experts on western (and Arabic) manuscripts said of works from their own field, even while expressing, all the while, a feeling in some obscure way  there’s something… Charles Singer, who claimed to see biology  appears never to have suggested any comparable manuscript either.


In any other field of study; if it were any other manuscript, there’s a logical inference that might be taken.

12 thoughts on “Expert opinions: ‘Not one of mine’

  1. Readers please note – after posting this, I learned of a post recently written by Marco Ponzi and which incidentally demonstrates that by no later than 1933 Panofsky had certainly been competent to recognise and interpret any alchemical symbolism in the manuscript had it been present.

    As I’ve said, Ponzi’s articles for ‘Medium” are, or are not, permitted to be read, on a case-by-case basis, so there’s no point in providing a link which may, but won’t necessarily, work.


    1. The manuscript is a fake. That you correctly noticed. The author writes that he took the text and drawings of plants from the collection of his grandfather. He integrated his text into the main text. If we read in the usual way, then we will read the text of the collector of plants. The second text is hidden between the letters of the first text and in the text the author describes how he is expressed – the innermost. That is, describes his own. life Something like a diary. The book itself is made of leather, really old and was once astrological. 20 pages were removed from the book and apparently burned (I need to read more precisely) the text from the manuscript was wiped out with the help of reagents, including citric acid, and a new one was written. Circles were used for new purposes. The book was created so as to interest us fools at the time. For this they created a legend. Apparently, all the pictures are drawn from another source and create the impression of an ancient time, for example, during the reign of Trajan. I will comment on all pictures and read all the inscriptions. The manuscript itself will impress in our society. I mean the second secret text. I’ll tell you honestly; I do not understand why nobody has read it yet. To my surprise there is no limit …..


      1. Valeriy
        I’ve never said the manuscript was a fake; I’m pointing out that experts in various genres of medieval European literature say the manuscript doesn’t look like one of their sort. That doesn’t make it a fake; it suggests that the content didn’t originate in Latin Europe. I accept the radiocarbon date range (1404-1438) so I don’t accept ‘New World’ theories. But that still leaves a large part of the world, doesn’t it?


  2. Hello Thomas, nice of you to comment.
    The problems here are the usual ones first definition… then accurate contextualisation… and only last the argument claiming accurate interpretation.


  3. I guess my long held beliefs apropos Mary Everest-Boole being the perpetrator and prime mover behind the so called Vm hoax conspiracy, are still not being cosidered in spite of most persuasive argument in support. Diane, you of all folks, who surely must have had experience coming to terms with usual feminine frustrations of gender prejudice in male dominated fields of acedemia like your own. Imagine the degree of hostility experienced by a young widowed mother of five trying to eke out a living as a low salaried library assistant in an institutionalised English, male dominated environment like CU Queens College library est.1448. Such lady being a proud self educated multi lingual translator and advanced mathematician, with a remarkable insight into child teaching methodology. She was the widow of George Boole, undisputed father of modern computer board logics, the author of algebraic propositional truth theory logistics, which he theorised might one day enable, for instance, development of a simple artificial language…..For Mary’s insidious pay back plot to be successful, it was essential to garner trustworthy co conspiritorial assistance, that being derived from her totally sympathetic multi talented all girl family, including five ultra feminist daughters ie. Maggie the renowned plant and castle sketcher’s wife who spent much of her time at artist retreats in northern Italy, a pair of celebrated math theorists in Alacia and Mary from DC, the Lucy the celebrated analytic chemist, and finally her own devoted student grandsons, Sir Geoffrey Taylor, the renowned wave theory physicist (fat boy bomb) amateur botanist cum cosmo-astrologist, plus the latter’s neuro surgeon brother Ingram (of Changi). Of course we can’t forget youngest daughter Ethel Lily Voynich (Gadfly) partly responsible for the glyph graphics, copied down in her metculously neat unwaivering hand onto sheets of selected pre1448 parchment aquired by the great lade herself, from ample quantities stored away within accessable long neglected Queens Library volumes at Cambridge..Do you think that might stand some chance of success?, baring in mind the depth of talent at hand to make it come together and stick like glue. You might note that Wilfred, who was himself, another of Mary’s students of antiquarian manuscripts, probably knew only enough about the sting so as not to land himself in the poo if it hit the fan ie. In his assumed role of alleged manuscript aquisition and promotions man…ps. My own dating commences about 1888 and runs through to 1911 or 1912 when the boys left home to advance their own distinguished careers, so when Mary went to heaven in 1916, she surely did so knowing that just deserts for all perceived social injustices, at the hands of pricks, throughout her long life, were in place and likely to last until the gender score was evened..pps. Don’t concern yourself with the oft thrown up (literally) physical objections to the con, such as quire alighning, awl holes or in place marginalia, which average grade conterfeiters have been dealing with effectively since the DSS and beyond. Our cloddish nay saying fraternity are in the main like Mary’s own antagonists, none having the nouse required to peel their own bananas and being eternally ignorant of Boole propositional truth concepts for dealing with negative thought. Cheers js.


    1. John,

      If a paleographer of experience and competence were to pronounce the ‘Voynich hand’ that of Ms. Boole, or were a codicologist to prove that the vellum was inscribed four centuries and more after it was made (and there are ways to determine forgeries), then I might agree that the idea of the Vms as a late nineteenth- or early twentieth century – forgery has some merit.

      In the same way, I should need evidence that an analysis of the manuscript’s palette (all of it) was consistent with the range of materials demonstrably available to Ms. Boole and that she had the opportunity to learn what very few knew in her time, viz. the range of materials used in the early fifteenth century as against (say) the late sixteenth.
      Further, it would have to be demonstrated that the type of twine/cord used to stitch the text-block, and including its twist (S- or Z- twist), was available unused to someone living in England. And – preferably – how she would have known then details only known to us thanks to modern microspectrometry.

      I have no sympathy with any theory-driven narrative, and yours is opposed by the informed judgement of competent specialists in various aspects of manuscript studies, as well as by my the results of my own research, informed as it happens by formal training and some decades’ practical experience.

      I cannot deny that a handful of Voynicheros have expressed gender bias over the past decade of my commenting on the manuscript’s imagery nor that the ‘typical’ profile of the online Voynichero is of a 25+ year old male from the Anglo-German cultural heritage, but I believe the bias is unconscious in most cases and only extreme in a few, though in those few it is certainly extreme.


  4. Diane,

    Thanks for your assessment and I appreciate getting a fair hearing at last. I’ll be working closely with this amazing Boole family and I’d not be surprised if my next post can go someway to answering some of your own perceived doubts on the validity of my claims.js


  5. Obviously, I wasn’t clear. These aren’t *my doubts” – they are some among the many factual objections to your theory.. There are others which as yet have scarcely been addressed by anyone – such as why the vellum seems to show no evidence of ruling out: no prick marks, no sign of plummet, no imprint from wire or cord as you’d get with a frame. In the usual way we might argue that a line of pricking had been removed when the manuscript was cut down in rebinding – but there’s no sign that the text-block has ever been trimmed, even in the fifteenth century. Now, if someone wanted to fake a European manuscript so that it looked like a product of Latin Europe, they would surely show a characteristic ruling out. So why not here? I’m still trying to find a codicologist able to cast some light on that peculiarity of the Vms – among its many others.


  6. Perhaps the fakers were thinking more along the lines of duplicating the works of some hitherto unidentified, less sophisticated medieval social order, it being well below the standard of vaguely similiar Latino almanacs. It would certainly enable a better chance for our hoaxers to succeed, in my opinion, if for instance, obvious signs of standard European laying out techniques were not adopted. Better to convince the learned professors of medieval history, that they had indeed discovered a unique and special class of unrefined though intelligent people.


  7. On the contrary; had that have been their only aim, I’d imagine that they and any of their up to speed heirs and successors, would be more than satisfied with the outcome to date. Just take a look at the impressive list of top order experts (male dominated) that have come and gone, having made no impression on Vm’s well kept secret, in the century since Fred first invited his pal Bill Newbold to give an opinion on the new ‘Bacon’ volume.


    1. Interesting you should talk about the question of competencies. I’ve just published a post on that subject. As to bigotry and prejudice of any kind, there is a simple litmus test. If a person does something which the viewer or their friends might do but is immediately presumed (without evidence) to act from other and inferior motives, then what you are seeing is prejudice at work. It expresses itself in empty, but derogatory words, in distortions of the person’s name and titles.. and in other such mechanisms whose only purpose is to assert that the object of that prejudice belongs on a lower rung of the social ladder. In point of fact, Professor William Romaine Newbold was a scholar of some eminence in his own field – interestingly, a field closely related to Professor Robert S.Brumbaugh’s. Now while both men attempted to ‘solve’ the text, and both claimed to have done so, only one was so savagely attacked as to ruin his reputation to this day. The other’s work continues to be recommended by the Beinecke Library itself as if Brumbaugh were the ‘last word’ in Voynich studies. Which shows that prejudice is not always the reason for discriminatory behaviour.


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