I feel obliged to counter a statement made recently by Koen Gheuens, who said in a Voynich forum that “Don’t forget that Panofsky hopped on the “New World” train as soon as it passed by.”
Panofsky did nothing of the kind.
He simply refused to engage in argument. Having given his opinion to Mrs. Voynich and Anne Nill in 1932, and unsuccessfully attempted for two years to avoid William Friedman’s determined efforts to involve him further, Panofsky finally met him and then, when Friedman had the effrontery to expect Panofsky to fill out a ridiculous ‘questionnaire’, he wrote in answer to Question 3: What’s the date?
A: Were it not for the sunflower which, if correctly identified, would date the manuscript after 1492, I should have thought that it was executed a little earlier, say, about 1470.
The emphasis is mine.
So far as I’ve been able to discover, Panofsky never said or wrote another word about the Voynich manuscript, and given the politicisation of the manuscript’s study once it had been effectively co-opted by American military intelligence during the McCarthy era, one understands both Panofsky’s unwillingness to become involved and his declining to engage positively or negatively with O’Neill’s foolish assumption that he could read the Voynich plant-pictures as if they’d been modern botanical specimen drawings.
There is no excuse for attempting to misrepresent a scholar of Panofsky’s erudition and competence as if he’d been incompetent or a ‘band-wagon’ type. Panofsky was never a ‘bandwagon’-er, and I sincerely wish that the same could be said for every Voynich writer, both past and present.
Earlier posts in this blog map the evolution of Voynich studies, several treating that meeting between Panofsky and Friedman, the circumstances in which it occurred, and why I regard many of Panofsky’s replies to that questionnaire as coolly satirical.
His unforced and serious assessment was offered in 1932, with a later report that he concurred with a keeper of manuscripts in saying it could not be any later than within a decade of 1500. The mistakes Panofsky made in 1932 were those typical of the time: he initially assumed all the content in the manuscript had originated with a single ‘author’ and so confused date of manufacture with date of origin for the content. However, in agreement with the keeper of manuscripts he later realised that this wasn’t so, and that while he might allow manufacture to have been so late, the information itself might be ‘considerably earlier’ that is older – as I have found it is.