The good news. 1. Codicology.

At the moment, the good news on the Voynich front includes fresh directions from codicology.

The subject’s importance for understanding the manuscript can hardly be understated. The nature of a manuscript – as manuscript – is defined by its form, materials, and the way it is put together, so every new piece of codicological information sheds more light on where and when a manuscript was produced.

Indirectly, it can also help us dispense with one, and another, of the old hypothetical narratives.

Despite its importance, the subject of codicology was almost forgotten in Voynich studies between the time Jim Reeds’ list closed, and the recent advent of Vladimir Dulov* and Lisa Fagin Davis on the scene. ‘Almost’ – because the line was maintained by Nick Pelling.

*some Voynich writers use ‘Wladimir’.

In his book of 2006, and then in posts to his blog Cipher Mysteries, Pelling tried to arouse greater interest in study of the manuscript-as-manuscript, even while others were kindly advising newcomers to various Voynich arenas that to consider the manuscript’s codicology was another of the ‘unnecessary’ things, and Pelling’s work in particular ‘too complicated’ ( – ‘too complicated for whom?’ was my thought on receiving that meme-instruction.)

Though I wasn’t – and still am not – entirely sympathetic to one of Pelling’s aims namely to (as he saw it) restore the manuscript’s text to its ‘proper order’,* I did what little I could to refer others to the subject, to emphasise its importance, and recommend that readers of voynichimagery consider Pelling’s seminal study.

*From my own point of view, any earlier re-arrangement of older material might have been intentional and such ‘restoration’ might then lose us valuable historical information. So, for example, inclusion of only ten months of the year might indicate use by persons such as pilgrims or mariners who sailed only during those ten months. The calendar fold-ins are awkward enough to manage; why would they not remove superfluous leaves? (That’s an example, not an argument). But for the same reason, I’d also suggest Dulov’s comment on the fold-out Quire 9 be expressed more cautiously than his description of it as a ‘wrong’ inclusion.  Others (including the present writer) had already recognised from the imagery that it originated from a period much earlier, and from a source other than we find in other sections. Thematically, however, they fit well. I am of course happy to find my opinion confirmed which was so vehemently rejected by the ‘Voynich community’ in 2011 – that is, that the manuscript is a compilation of/from several distinct exemplars.

However – that aside – I did what I could to support Pelling’s efforts to keep the subject within the horizons of Voynich studies. It proved an uphill trudge; my being unable to support the ‘Germanic-central-European narrative’, saw other forum members quite openly instructed by adherents of that theory to ‘pay no attention’ to this outsider. A few disobeyed. 🙂

Pelling’s Voynich theory was focused on northern Italy, which saw him left out in the cold for several years, but he was willing to maintain an entente (more of the cordiale on his side than on the other), and around 2016 or so northern Italy was suddenly being included among regions deemed ‘Germanic’-ish, like medieval France, and Sicily, and even the Aegean islands according to one adherent. How the situation is today, I cannot say.

Happily, neither Dulov nor Fagin Davis need be concerned about such fall-out from the Voynich ‘theory wars’. These scholars are so obviously not ‘Voynicheros’.

Both are ‘people of the manuscript’ – specialists for whom this manuscript is one of a great many they have considered in a professional way, and who have the skills needed to set this manuscript within the context of their own broad knowledge and.. most important … able to attend closely to the manuscript’s own testimony to its history and origins.

Blessed relief!

I should have liked now to provide readers with a summary of the codicological work earlier done by Pelling.

My reason for wanting to that is the same as my reason for not doing it – that is, his having withdrawn the book from publication. What his current views may be, and how they might differ from those he held fifteen years ago is for him to say.

I hope he might one day publish some commentary through Ciphermysteries about Dulov’s work.

Of Fagin Davis’ research, I’ve heard nothing in detail, but I can add a link to Dulov’s Blogger blog (below). He writes in Russian but Google translate does a fair job – enough to show that his work is a model of clear observation, meticulous documentation and non-theory-influenced conclusions.

And if Anton Alipov will permit his more technical English translation of Dulov’s posts to be offered to others apart from his fellow forum members, the word may be spread still more widely and even more readers helped to appreciate these recent contributions to the study.

Here’s the link to Dulov’s ‘Blogger’ blog.

Postscript – I hope some publisher might take up the task of collecting, translating and publishing a book of collected ‘Russian essays on the Voynich manuscript’. Alipov himself is another whose contributions to the study have been constantly ignored and underappreciated – in my opinion.

What magic? Where magic? – 4. Whose magic?

[6th July – post shortened, by request]

I’d like to begin by quoting more of what Stuart Buck said to the assembled NSA tem in 1976.  I’ve added one word, because while keeping clear of most typical ‘blind spots’, he did overlook the possibility that what is contained in the written and/or pictorial text did not necessarily originate in the time and place the artefact was made.

from Buck to NSA at seminar 1976

As my readers will be aware, I have reason to be grateful for Nick Pelling’s willingness to treat decently with the newcomer, and to answer the usual research questions about sources, earlier studies on a topic, precedents and so forth. For many, there has been no other reliable source of information about such things, because regardless of his own preferred theories, Nick has always been willing to treat honestly with others’ work.

That said,  I should also make clear that each of us approaches the manuscript from a very different angle.

Pelling sees it as an historical problem and has said, in the past, that the aim of  historical research is to form a theory. 

My approach is  material and pragmatic –  identifying and then working to resolve any set or series of questions arising during close examination of an artefact.   In other words – my approach is question-driven and my research is thematic in style.  In response to an idea of the manuscript as about magic, my response is to consider the range and type of magical imagery and where – if anywhere – that item from the manuscript might belong.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with forming an historical theory. In practice a theory, once espoused, can so easily lead researchers by the nose, to the point where they find confirmation everywhere and become so certain of the theory’s rightness that some have even invented fictions to serve as ‘patch’ over some hole in that theory.  I suppose what I mean is that theories can be seductive – as Newbold and too many others have found to their cost. The internal logic of an unfounded narrative can persuade even those who construct them.   It was the flaw in Wilfrid’s story, in O’Neill’s ‘note’ of 1944, in Brumbaugh’s papers and in much more Voynich writing produced since then. 

But at base, it is a problem of methodology, tools and validation.  

Methods – Thematic research vs theory-focused. 

A theory-driven study, on considering some possibility such as ‘magical’ content tends to define the parameters of study by their theory, not by the ostensible subject – the manuscript – and the topic for research – magical images.

Thematic research sets the limits of investigation without regard for any theory. Theories can wait, and wait indefinitely, and can – often must – be modified after the detail is, or isn’t, found to accord with both the historical evidence and the rest of  manuscript’s internal evidence.

In relation to the ‘occult Voynich’ narrative we see it informing method is  theory-driven because it begins where it ends: with the Germanic/central European theory or some other theory-defined locus, and without any effort to honestly consider the evidence for any other possibility.  No-one has, compared and contrasted – for example – alchemical images from Spain, England, Italy, France, Sicily and Byzantium or the Aegean islands and concluded that the closest in style to the Voynich images are characteristically ‘Germanic’.  But to be of assistance to those working to understand the written part of the text, such a process of investigation and elimination is important.  

I think I should give a specific example here of the contrast in method between a theory driven driven approach and a thematic, question-driven approach works in practice, but since much of my work in recent times has been doing ‘background checks’ on ideas currently circulating, it’s difficult to find an example that won’t upset someone.  I’m reminded of what Curt Zimansky once said, as he began a talk:

I HAVE CHOSEN TO TALK about a work that has been praised and damned for two centuries, about which one cannot venture an opinion without offending two thirds of one’s colleagues, and about which there is still no critical agreement. … Where there is so much disagreement about a work of acknowledged importance all parties will plead from the historical approach. I hope to show that … history can be used to re- inforce a prejudice, or can combine with critical techniques to obscure what is clear; that on the other hand a rigorous use of the history of ideas can rectify error and permit us to extend critical dimensions. (p. 45)

  • Curt A. Zimansky, ‘Gulliver, Yahoos, and Critics’, College English, Oct., 1965, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Oct., 1965), pp. 45-49.

Perhaps the best illustration is one which has no clear-cut conclusion, and so I’ll use the example of a recent enquiry into whether or not, as Pelling recently suggested, Quire 20 should be imagined two quires rather than one,

Nick Pelling remarked – almost as if were self-evident – that:  

… Q[uire] 20 … contains far too many bifolia to be a single quire,… I think may originally have been constructed as two separate gatherings Q20A and Q20B.

That’s the theory.

Readers might find it plausible; they may find it suits a preferred theory of their own. It may be a valid notion. It may not.

My first inclination, then, is to consider first that the Beinecke library’s description has the quire as a single gathering, one which was a septenion (seven bifolios) but from which the centre bifolio has been lost. 

Pelling says it has  “too many” bifolios and my immediate question is  “too many compared to what?” –  and the first answer which occurs (and which may be inaccurate) is that the comparison is to  ‘normal’ Latin custom. 

So where is the justification for altering the form of a manuscript to make it less obviously unlike a Latin ‘norm’?  Especially this manuscript whose quires contain so much else that has no parallel in any known Latin manuscript.

Its ‘fold-outs’ might be better termed ‘fold-ins’ since they most resemble scroll-lengths folded in to the size of the Voynich quires and stitched in. Then there is the assertion, always somewhat problematic, that ‘Voynichese’ is written in a humanist hand.  The Voynich pages’ lack of ruling out and lack of simplicity in their arrangement has always seemed to me to sit uncomfortably with that ‘humanist’ idea.  But it may be right.

In terms of codicology, too, there are other other a-typical quires, including what had been two quinions.

Quire 8 was- and quire 13 is a quinion.


Evidence for Quire 20 as  originally a septenion seems clear enough.  The quire was sewn as a single quire.  

But perhaps  it merits some digging to see how unusual were septenions and quinions in the fifteenth century.

A first search through JSTOR produced an article which looked promising.

  • E.K. Rand, ‘A Harvard Manuscript of Ovid, Palladius and Tacitus’, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1905), pp. 291-329 (39 pages).

Rand’s article is of interest not least because the the ‘humanist hand’ is usually said to have been first used by Poggio Bracciolini and one of the two manuscripts bound in the Harvard volume is written in that humanist hand, includes an introductory letter to Bracciolini, and consists of a single septenion. 

The other of the two manuscripts bound to form that volume consists of ten quinions.

I’ll quote some of Rand’s commentary.

The most important fact omitted in Quaritch [the seller’s catalogue] is that the volume includes two separate manuscripts; they are noted here as MS I and and MS. II. The contents of the volume are as follows: fol. I-4. Two uniones, added when MS. I and MS. II were combined. .. Both MSS., naturally, were written before the date of binding. ..

Manuscript 1: “This manuscript consists of a single septenion. It has 22 lines to the page.  The text occupies 12.2 x6.4 cm.
fol. 5. Rynucius Poggio suo Oratori Eximio I felicitatem (in red) Ille Rem optimam et sibi salutarem ….. (fol. I8). At inuita nemini datur effugere fatum. (One line blank) FINIS.
fol. x8.’ Blank.
An unpublished letter of Rinucci da Castiglione to Poggio, with translations of the Athenian decrees contained in the De Corona of Demosthenes. The letter must have been written before I459, when Poggio died; probably before I453, when he left Rome; and possibly much earlier still, as he was studying Greek with Rinucci as early as 1425. See Voigt, Wiederbelebung des klass. Alterthums, 1893, II, pp. 45, 84. The present copy might well have been made about the middle of the century.

Manuscript 2:

MS. II. This manuscript consists of ten quinions. It has 23 lines to the the text occupies 12.7x 6.4.

N.B. This manuscript contains a work by Ovid, and while it is Ovid’s Heroides, not his Metamorphoses, it’s only fair to mention that Koen Gheuens has (or had) a theory that the Voynich text represents matter from the Metamorphoses.

While I am unable to agree with Koen’s reading of the Voynich drawings, I have long been of the opinion that the oldest chronological layer informing the drawings – if not all the drawings in every section of the Voynich  – is Hellenistic, first enunciation having been, in my opinion, contemporary with the Seleucids. A later layer I date to the 1st-3rdC AD and  latest of all (barring some pigments and marginalia) to between 1290-1330.  Manufacture of our present manuscript-as-object I date, naturally, to the early fifteenth century..
  • Harvard has made the volume available online. Phillipps MS 6748 describing it as “an anthology of humanist texts” and dating the whole, as bound, to between 1425 and 1500. 

What was being copied by these humanists and scribes were copies of ancient and classical texts in versions previously unknown to Latin Europe, being brought or fetched into Italy, by Byzantine immigrants.

So, we  have one useful example. The Harvard volume’s manuscripts were certainly made and written in Italy. Both are dated to the fifteenth century, with the septenion perhaps inscribed within a short time of the Voynich manuscript, and since the Harvard volume shows the humanist hand already in use (before 1440?) we don’t have to abide by the usual dating for that hand’s appearance in Italy. The layout issues remain, but there seems no obvious reason for supposing septenions weren’t being used in fifteenth-century Italy.

A cross-check with Beit Arie, reveals another example. Beit Arié says that septenions are very rare in Jewish manuscripts before listing 31 examples. He says they are “found only in seventeen paper manuscripts, in thirteen manuscripts with mixed quires from Spain, Italy, and Byzantium, and in one Italian parchment manuscript.” Beit Arié does not distinguish vellum from parchment.

  • Malachi Beit-Arié, Hebrew Codicology: historical and comparative typology of hebrew medieval codices based on the documentation of the extant dated manuscripts using a quantitative approach‘, unrevised (2018) preprint  of

So there’s an interesting possibility – that text in  Quire 20 might have been copied onto vellum from a septenion quire in a paper manuscript .

Note to self – what is known of the parchminers’- and stationers’ network for the early fifteenth century? Quires ready-made?  

Like the Voynich manuscript, the Harvard volume also contains quinions.

Less rare than the septenion in Latin European manuscripts, they were actually standard for quires in medieval Arabic manuscripts. 


Altogether, so far, this information raises a possibility that quires of this type, being atypical for Latin European works, may have been – for some reason as yet unexplored –  deliberately selected and/or what was on offer from the stationers or parchminers, who not only sold sheets of membrane but ready-made quires. 

Another possibility is that use of the quinion, and/or the septenion, was some quirk of the small circle of 15thC Italian Graecophiles and/or a usage familiar to the Byzantine Greeks who had emigrated into Italy. 

A third possibility is that the ancient and classical texts which are copied into that Harvard volume had been of that form when brought into the west, and so the form as well as the content was being imitated – perhaps as sign of authenticity, or to avoid risking quires of a rare text being separated.

The ‘Graecophile/Byzantine’ possibility took prioriy –  first, because if it were found to so, it might tell us what sort of text may be written in the quinions and septenion of the Voynich manuscript. 

Naming a paradigm.

Which of the various Byzantines sent to fetch manuscripts from libraries of the Greek domains shall I mention here?  Perhaps one from the second half of the fifteenth century.  Janus Lascaris will do well.

Janus Lascaris was known to the Latins as John Rhyndacenus ( i.e. from Rhyndakos in Asia Minor. The Rhyndakos village and river are now known as Mustafakemalpaşa,

He was a scholar from an eminent Byzantine family, and being native to Asia minor was surely as familiar with the other Byzantine capital of Trebizond/Trabzon on the south-eastern shore of the Black Sea.

Having come to Italy under the patronage of Cardinal Bessarion, Janus Lascaris was made welcome in Florence by Lorenzo de Medici after Bessarion’s death.

He was then sent twice  by Lorenzo to fetch copies of ancient and classical texts from ‘eastern parts’ and we are fortunate that some of Lascaris’ personal notebooks survive, listing titles wanted, titles sighted and titles bought.  One of these notebooks records his itinerary, which ended with his returning to Italy with 200 manuscripts from Athos:

From Florence Lascaris’ itinerary took him to Ferrara, Venice, Padua, Corfu, Arta, Salonica, Galata, Sozopolis, Athos, Salonica, Crete, Apulia, Corigliano, and Monte Sardo. He lists manuscripts acquired or at least seen at each of those points. We shall restrict ourselves to Athos where, apart from one book at Chilandari and another at “Simenou» .. he confined his attention to the collections of Vatopedi and Megiste Lavra.

I’ve had reason to mention Vatopedi before. To save readers the effort of finding the earlier reference, here’s the critical paragraph again.

That the texts of Strabo, and of Dionysius of Byzantion were still known and copied in Constantinople during the early fourteenth century is proven by the deservedly famous Vatopedi manuscript, a compilation of texts from major and minor classical authors describing the sea-routes of the Black Sea, Red Sea and to as far as England. It is difficult to think other than the compilation was made for contemporary needs, and these may have included the needs of foreigners resident in the enclaves of Pera and within Constantinople, wanting to know those routes.

from: D.N.O’Donovan, ‘The skies above Pt.5: bodies in baskets’, (12th September, 2019).

Manuscripts copied by Janus Lascaris again include quinions, Young mentioning specifically, 

Venice, San Marco, Codex XCII, 7 (gr. 522), ff. 181-198, given in 1468 by Cardinal Bessarion, describing it as “a handsome vellum codex, of 23 quinions, 268×193 mm.” and Am(brosianus) D 210 inf. (gr. 940), “a parchment quinion, 292×160 mm., contains Theognis vv. 1-618 only, 31 lines a page in a writing-space 180×80 mm., … It follows another quinion with an unfinished Timaeus Locrus De natura mundi, on parchment leaves, 274×157 mm.,, J. Lascaris writing 35 lines a page in single column.”  And again, Florence, Laur. XXXI, 20, ff. 35v-57r, leaves being lost between ff. 41/2, 42/3, 44/5, 45/6 … the second and fourth broadsheets of a quinion having gone astray.”

  • Douglas C. C. Young. ‘A codicological inventory of Theognis manuscripts With some remarks on Janus Lascaris’ contamination and the Aldine editio princeps’, Scriptorium, Tome 7 n°1, 1953. pp. 3-36. 

A much more detailed account of Lascaris’ travels, including mention of Lascaris’  notebooks:

  • Graham Speake, ‘Janus Lascaris’ visit to Mount Athos in 1491’, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 34 (1993), 325-30.

Review of information so far.

  1. Evidence that the humanist hand was employed as early (perhaps) as 1425.
  2. Evidence that works of that date, in the humanist hand, using quinion and one example of a septenion can be identified as work accomplished in Italy.
  3. The interest of humanists was chiefly in copying classical and ancient texts brought from ‘eastern parts’.
  4. The page layout and scribal customs seen – so far – in the Humanist and Byzantine scholars’ works do not accord with those of the scribes who worked on the Voynich manuscript.

Interim conclusions

From the evidence sighted and cited so far,  I can draw only one conclusions –  that there is not enough in the historical record to support Pelling’s theory that Quire 20 has ‘too many bifolios’, and enough to dispute the idea. No justification exists for attempting to presume that what was the usual habit in central Europe should be imposed on Italy, Spain and southern regions.

The quire-stitching does not support the idea, and the historical evidence considered so far  shows that while septenions would appear to be rare, they are not unknown and we have already seen two attested from Italy, one being reasonably attributed to the first half of the fifteenth century and inscribed in a humanist hand, the other being sighted but not described in more detail by Beit Arié,


To end this post-  description of another fascinating manuscript held by Yale. Made about a century before the Voynich manuscript, it even includes mention of alchemy (and no I don’t have ay ‘medical Voynich’ theory. I avoid having theories; I find they interfere with work..



Yale University, Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney  Medical library Manuscript 28. (here). 

Medical compilation (“codex paneth“). Northern Italy, (Bologna ?), 1st quarter of the 14th century. Vellum; 685 folios; 2 35 X 337 mm· (Yale Medical Library, Ms. 28)

The curriculum of a fourteenth-century medical school was based on works of Hippocrates and Galen, rounded out and brought up to date with writings of Arabic origin and the best contemporary physicians of Salerno, Bologna, and northern Europe.

The “Codex Paneth” preserves precisely such a collection of medical tracts.

The forty-two separate tracts have been identified by K. Sudhoff. Included are several works of Hippocrates and Galen, others by such authors as Roger of Salerno, Rhazes, Albucasis, and other lesser known French and Italian writers.

Each tract is introduced by a historiated initial showing physicians in discourse with students or patients with various afflictions. The subjects covered in the compilation include anatomy, bloodletting, acute illness, diet, urine, the pulse, diseases of the eye, childhood diseases, herbal and lapidary remedies, alchemy, astrology, medical recipes, veterinary medicine, and an Arabic-Latin vocabulary (fols. 235^2 38V).

A large portion of the manuscript, some one hundred eighty folios, deals with surgery, not usually included in traditional medical texts. Perhaps the most interesting of the surgical treatises is that of Albucasis (fols. 200r~318v) in the translation of Gerard of Cremona.

It contains two hundred fifteen paintings of surgical instruments, inserted in the appropriate places within the text. The manuscript was written by two or possibly three scribes in northern Italy, probably at Bologna, the most likely place where such a vast compendium of current medical writings might be found at this time.

Two distinct hands are to be discerned also in the illustration, which has a generally Bolognese flavor. The volume was in Bohemia by 1326, as an obit on the last folio indicates.

Provenance: “Tomazlaus notarius Mylewfensis],” 1326 (obit, 6851:). Cathedral of Olomouc (Czechoslovakia), 16th century (fol. 4). [bought from] Fritz Paneth, Königsberg. Gift of the Yale Medical Library Associates in 1955.


  • Walter Cahn and James Marrow, ‘Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at Yale: A Selection’,  The Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 52, No. 4 (April 1978), pp. 173-284.

Skies above: Chronological Strata – Pt.1

Two previous:

Header image – detail from a portrait of Gian Francesco II Gonzaga.

STOP PRESS (Feb. 6th., 2020) – anyone who decided to check out the ‘horoscopic charts’ rumour… you can drop it.  A specialist in the history of astrology, astronomy and cosmology has just said plainly that that the Voynich month-folios do not accord with any type of ‘horoscopic chart’.

I’m waiting on his permission to quote and instructions on his preferred form for the acknowledgement.

I guess whoever dreamed up that “horoscopic charts” fiction – sorry,  ‘theory’ –  just didn’t care too much if it was true or not.



 The ‘Skies above’ series so far..  transmission affect

We have seen that in Mediterranean art, and then in that of western Europe to 1438,  representation of the unclothed female body occurs within certain definable limits both in terms of regions and of eras  and further that Panofsky had pointed out – rightly, and as early as 1932 –  that in the art of western Christian Europe (i.e. ‘Latin’ Europe) the unclothed ‘shapely’ female form does not occur until the fifteenth century.

In 1932, while he still presumed the whole to be (as Wilfrid had asserted since 1912) the work of a single western author, Panofsky altered his date for the manuscript from ‘perhaps’ the thirteenth century on to the first decades of the fifteenth, precisely because of its ‘shapely ladies’ and its palette, as Anne Nill reported:

[on first seeing the copy, Panofsky] became intensely interested and seemed to think the MS. early, perhaps as early as the 13th century … but as he came to the female figures in connection with the colours used in the manuscript he came to the conclusion that it could not be earlier than the 15th century!

(for details, see post of Feb. 13th.2019).

However, and before the manuscript had been radiocarbon dated,  Panofsky had woken to the possibility that the date for composition of the content and that for manufacture of our present manuscript might be separated by a considerable (if unspecified) length of time – in other words, that it was not an autograph at all. He actually widened the implied gap between content and manufacture in what John Tiltman reports as a direct communication – presumably offered in the 1950s but some time after Panofsky’s meeting with Friedman.

In a later paper, Tiltman writes,:

Professor Panoffsky [sic.] and the keeper of the manuscripts at the Cambridge Library both independently insisted on a date within 20 years of 1500 A.D., and [that] the manuscript as we have it may be a copy of a much earlier document.

  • [pdf] John Tiltman, ‘The Voynich manuscript: “the most mysterious manuscript in the world”‘ (1968).p.10.

Had the manuscript been both manufactured and first composed  “within twenty years of 1500” it might (in theory) have been possible, still, to argue the “shapely ladies” sections, including the month-folios, a product of Latin culture, but Panofsky clearly considered the content ‘much’ older than 1480-1520 and having as we now do, a radiocarbon range of 1404-1438 and understanding that the clothing in our present copy is a late addition to it, so  the implication is unavoidable that the ‘ladies’ folios had their origins somewhere else.  “Much earlier” does not mean a few decades; in contemporary usage, in this context, it implied the content’s origin  “centuries older” – taking us back to before the fifteenth century and emergence of shapely unclothed female forms in western European art.  I  agree – although, for reasons explained in the post of January 10th, I  do ascribe the ‘lewd’ additions to the month-folios to some later draughtsman during the last quarter of the fifteenth century.

The implication of Panofsky’s statements when considered in sequence, went unnoticed and in 2009 even to speak of the work as a compendium whose material the copyists had from  different exemplars was to meet with uproar and derision, as the present writer discovered.  Only during the past four of five years have we seen a lessening of the old emphasis on  ‘the author” and growing (if oscillating) acceptance of the manuscript as a compilation..

Gian Francesco II Gonzaga

Traditionalists had simply assumed the manuscript an autograph – that is a manuscript inscribed by a single ‘author’ – because there had always been ‘an author’ in the Wilrid-Friedman tradition, and, until a few years ago,  “naming the Latin author” was still the chief preoccupation.  For the core-conservatives, who emerged in the early 2000s, and gained an increasingly louder voice from 2010, there had to be an ‘author’ and preferably one who was ‘central European’ and connected in some way to the Imperial line.    The cryptographers wanted ‘an author’ for different reasons, chiefly because Friedman had framed engagement with the manuscript in terms of a battle of wits between himself and some brilliantly ingenious Renaissance male. The type certainly existed. See e.g.

For the revisionist, though, the more important point is that any substantial gap between first enunciation of an image and its subsequent copying provides evidence of transmission and this can be very helpful in establishing origin for the first enunciation and thus the image’s intended meaning.  Of what this may imply  for the written part of this text, we’ll speak later. Much depends on whether a section’s written text is as old as first enunciation of its images.


Transmission affect.

Shifts from one historico-cultural context to another leaves evidence of that event  even if the older image is one revived in the same region.   Think ‘gothic revival’ for an obvious example.  In the same way, a Roman copy  of a classical Greek statue will evince both the maker’s ‘Roman’ character and that the model had been made by an older Greek; in a nineteenth century Englishman’s copy of an Egyptian image we see both the nineteenth-century Englishman’s way of seeing and a hint of the Egyptian scribe’s.   ‘Ways of seeing’ are the result of a specific time, place and community and are extremely difficult to erase, replace, or imitate precisely ..  as any forger will tell you.  The later copy points us to the earlier place and time of origin… if you know what you’re looking at.

(and this, by the way, is where most theoretical narratives for the Voynich manuscript fail; they assume the images infinitely compliant – as Aztec one day, German the next, Italian the day after, or sixteenth-century or nineteenth century…)

Very little of the  Voynich manuscript’s imagery “reads” easily for people accustomed to our present, European, tradition –  because the majority aren’t expressions in that tradition. Conversely, the reason that some few details – such as the late-added clothing, the central emblems of the month-folios, or the supposed ‘castle’do seem accessible and for that very reason have received attention massively in excess of the percentage they represent.

To recognise  evidence of transmission is rarely as simple as recognising the difference between Opus Francigenum and ”gothic revival‘ and requires the viewer to know enough to recognise the significance of small details – which is exactly why forgers still manage to fool enough people, enough of the time, to make fortunes.   The important thing is that the copyist should have attempted to copy, rather than to replace or re-express the images from his exemplar.  We are fortunate that, in the Voynich manuscript, most of the images appear to be driven by a desire to copy  with near facsimile exactitude.  I say ‘most’ because we have to deal with various layers, some post-dating the vellum’s range and a few (chiefly in the bathy- section) where the copyist had thought he could improve on the original. The rapidity with which that hand vanishes re-inforces the overall sense that the initial desire of those involved in the fifteenth-century copy was to have everything copied exactly.  (The couple of ‘improvements’ in the bathy- section might, conceivably, also be due to some term’s being ambiguous  as e.g. ‘passage’, ‘basin’ or ‘channel’).

Then we see a different attitude affect the work – the one I call the ‘prude’.


Chronological layers. Separating layers of transmission affect is akin to the archaeologists’ removing a site’s levels of occupation and is similarly described as strata: in this case, chronological strata because one may assume changes in cultural context always attend the passage of time.

In this series, I’ve already mentioned some discernible strata.  As I read it, the sequence maps  – counting down from the latest/uppermost:


#1 – (Last quarter of the fifteenth century. post-production). the ‘lewd’ additions.

My reason for assigning these details – not all of which are lewd in themselves – to the last quarter of the fifteenth century were explained in the post of  January 10th., 2020.

In this context I might repeat an item from a couple of posts to Voynichimagery, namely that it might prove worthwhile to ask if there is any correlation between  items so marked in the month-folios and the  ‘Dies Aegyptiaci’.

At the time I wrote those posts I knew of no previous mention of that subject in Voynich studies – that is, no precedent – but afterwards a reader kindly let me know that someone had mentioned the topic “on the first mailing list or somewhere”.  I regret not having had time to follow up that remark.  For the record my posts to Voynich imagery were:1. D.N. O’Donovan, ‘Lamentable days’ (Tuesday, April 4th, 2017) and    2. ‘Lamentable days’ -Recommended reading’, (Tuesday, April 4th, 2017).Among the references I provided then were…

  • Ginzel, Handbuch der mathematischen und technischen Chronologie , 1:204-12;
  • Sebastian Porceddu et al., “Evidence of Periodicity in Ancient Egyptian Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18 (2008): 327-39
  • W. R. Dawson, “Some Observations on the Egyptian Calendars of Lucky and Unlucky Days,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12 (1926): 260-64;
  • E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic (London, 1899), 224-228.

I bring up this point again here because at least one figure recovered from Naucratis shows an exaggerated pelt, comparable in its dimensions to that seen in the ‘Venus’ miniature in the Ambrosianus manuscript  – and we must never forget that Georg Baresch believed the Voynich manuscript’s content was, in some sense, Egyptian. To quote from Neal’s translation of Baresch’s letter of 1637:

In fact it is easily conceivable that some man of quality went to oriental parts …. He would have acquired the treasures of Egyptian medicine partly from the written literature and also from associating with experts in the art, brought them back with him and buried them in this book in the same script. This is all the more plausible because the volume contains pictures of exotic plants which have escaped observation here in Germany.

Note – Neal reads Baresch’s phrasing as indicative of hypothesising but I read it as emphatic – “in fact, it is easily conceivable…’.  this being Baresch’s reaction to Kircher’s dismissive response  after receiving copied folios earlier sent by Baresch through a Jesuit known to both of them.  Kircher had published an appeal to the public for materials helpful in Kircher’s efforts to explain Egyptian hieroglyphics.

On Naukratis see..

  • Alexandra Villing, Naukratis: Greeks in Egypt (a British Museum Catalogue). see the Museum’s website.
  • The ‘Egyptian days’ are otherwise termed Dies aegri , -atri , –mali , -maledicti, -ominosi , -infortunati and -tenebrosi. Some of the Latin sources appear to be accurate; though others are wildly imaginative/theoretical.


folio 116v.  It seems (at least to me) that a line of marginalia on folio 116v might belong to the same time (i.e. last quarter of the fifteenth century) and possibly to the same hand as the ‘lewd’ additions.  According to Anton Alipov’s translation the writer of the marginalia on folio 116v was inclined to coarse expressions .


Stratum #2 – the ‘prude’.  post-copying – possibly before binding ( c.1430)

It may be unfair to describe as a ‘prude’  the person who had some of the figures overlaid with heavy pigment.  Whether he was the painter, or an overseer, he may have been merely of sensitive or modest disposition.  Often called the ‘heavy’ painter, he is distinguished from the ‘light painter’ since Nick Pelling observed and commented on the distinction.

‘Light-‘ and ‘Heavy-‘ painter.

After drawing attention to the ‘heavy painter’ and ‘light painter’ painter  in Reeds’ mailing list; Pelling spoke of the matter in his book (2006) and thereafter in various posts to his blog as e.g. this from 2017,  in connection with ‘labellese’ and codiciological issues.   While this passage sounds as if Pelling is speaking about the central emblems, he means any figures on the specified diagrams. I’ve added clarification in square brackets:-

To my mind, the most logical explanation for this is that the colourful painting on the light Aries [ i.e. April #1 diagram] was done at the start of a separate Quire 11 batch. That is, because Pisces [March-] and dark Aries [April #2] appear at the end of the single long foldout sheet that makes up Quire 10, I suspect that they were originally folded left and so painted at the same time as f69r and f69v (which have broadly the same palette of blues and greens) – f70r1 and f70r2 may therefore well have been left folded inside (i.e. underneath Pisces / f70v2), and so were left untouched by the Quire 10 heavy painter. Quire 11 (which is also a single long foldout sheet, and contains light Aries, the Tauruses, etc) was quite probably painted separately and by a different ‘heavy painter’: moreover, this possibly suggests that the two quires may well not have been physically stitched together at that precise point.

quoted from: Nick Pelling, ‘Voynich Labelese‘, ciphermysteries, September 3rd., 2017.

What Pelling had not realised was that his distinction sheds light on that broader issue of ‘authorship’.


Stratum #3 ‘The Modest’ clothing & the central emblems. (added in copying c. 1400-1430)


Before that final heavy overlay of pigment, some effort had been made to provide some of the bodies with covering using pen and light wash, but without altering the look of the limbs or obscuring the bodies’ form.

In my opinion, this pigment was added after completion of the original copy, but in all probability by the fifteenth-century copyists. I would not rule out the possibility that a precedent for the line-drawn clothing existed in the nearest exemplar (which I would date not later than the second or third quarter of the fourteenth century) but I’ll treat the style of this line-work in another post.

Central emblems

As I explained when treating the central emblems, in 2011-12, I think they are fifteenth-century additions gained from a tenth- or eleventh-century text available to the copyists, and preserved in Spain or in France, but in my view probably the latter and perhaps in Fleury. Just for the record I add details for two of my studies.

D.N. O’Donovan, ‘Of Fishes and Fleury’, voynichimagery, (Oct. 27th., 2012);  ‘Crosseyed feline and red splash’ ibid (Oct. 29th., 2012).

Postscript – (Feb. 8th. 2020) A reader upbraids me… and it is true that I should have mentioned here that signs of alteration within the central emblems allowed me to date their adoption to the fifteenth century. I have explained this, with the historical, archaeological and literary evidence in posts to voynichimagery.  There had been no analytical studies of the central emblems, but my conclusions failing to suit the traditionalist model, alternative efforts soon appeared.  I would maintain, still, however that e.g. the standing archer figure had its origins in the eastern Mediterranean, came west in c.10th-11thC and was first adapted for Christian use in glass made for the new ‘gothic’ windows, but the form of  its bow in the Voynich manuscript indicates a fifteenth-century adaptation, the bow being (as I explained from the usual sources) being  a particular,  light, wooden, double-lock crossbow used by marines and the type of mercenary  recorded in the rolls for Calais as a ‘Saggitario’.  The proverbial type continues to be known to as late as the the writings of Cervantes, he associating it with the earlier Aegean.

Since then, Koen Gheuens has provided a superb study of the way the calendar’s oddly formed ‘lobsters’ were disseminated from France through Alsace between the 13th-15thC.  Gheuens begins with  the books on astronomy which Scot produced in Sicily.  It should be kept in mind, though,  that before Scot went to Sicily, his study of mathematics and astonomy (including astrology) had been pursued in Canterbury and at the University of Paris, whence he travelled to Toledo and worked with the Toledo school of translators, completing in 1217 a translation of  al-Bitruji’s .Kitāb al-Hayʾah, entitling his translation De motibus celorum. Moses Ibn Tibbon’s Hebrew translation was completed in 1259.  In the works which Scot produced in Sicily are images whose details show him familiar with non-mainstream astronomical lore, usually described as ‘Berber’.  Thus, connection to Scot is not inconsistent with Panofsky’s attributing the manuscript to ‘Spain or somewhere southern’ and believing it presented as a Jewish work.  But do see:

Since 2012 there has been much put online which aims at illustrating German and/or French zodiacs, to support ‘national’ theories of the manuscript but  Gheuens’ post is one of the few pieces of original analytical research.  Darren Worley’s valuable work and his supplementary comments were published by the late Stephen Bax, whose site is now corrupted and all the comments erased.

Scot’s ‘de motibus‘ is included in a compilation (Brit.Lib. Harley MS 1) with a very tasty provenance.    Here’s a detail.

items from northe

Clothing –  dating and placing… 

Much that has been written about the clothing is flawed by an idea that what is found in one time or place has occurred nowhere else.  This idea infuses most of the  ‘national’ theories for the Voynich manuscript, focused as they are more on asserting their theory proven by such means and choosing so narrow a range of comparative material that no other view is possible.  There is also the habit of treating the heavy overpainting as if it can date or place the manuscript’s  ‘national character’.

To show why such methods are flawed, I’ll provide a contrasting example and since the unclothed figures also include some with headwear, demonstrate the fact that headwear of similar types  were to be found earlier and over a very wide geographic range.  The few seen below  show the padded band, the band-and-veil, and the ‘mural’ crown, in  works from north Africa to northern India, and from the 4thC BC to 3rdC AD.    In fact, it is the unclothed forms which tell us most about the text’s origin and character..

Upper register (left to right) Hellenistic figurine 3rdC BC;  Indo-Greek sculpture Gandharan period; coin of Carthage 350-270 BC.  detail from folio 80v. Lower register: detail from Louvre Ma590 ‘Three tyches’ dated c.160 AD


…. to be continued…


Expert opinion Myth versus materials science Pt.5a

Two previous:

Codicology  and conservation are technical disciplines and a specialist’s opinion must be regarded as expert opinion.  (See previous post)

As one writer said of codicology:

…. The vast variety of binding techniques, the diversity of the material and the artistic element demand deep understanding of books ….

I’d ask readers to keep that in mind, and the fact that in what follows, I am not criticising the technical matter in the Yale facsimile edition essay ‘Physical Materials’ but objecting to certain editorialising comment inserted into that technical essay.  Nor is my point that this person or that is wrong – but that the revisionist has to be aware that when the old myths meet scientific data at the coal-face, the myths don’t necessarily give way.

The  ‘editorialising hand’ who has inserted comments into the scientific report I will refer to as ‘e.h.’ Whose hand(s) these were is irrelevant; as we’ll see the problem is that in attempting to harmonise the new information with the speculative narratives, that editorialising hand does a disservice to the reader, the researcher and  – one might even argue – to Yale, under whose imprint the essay appears.  ‘

In this post, the issue concerns the text-block’s binding and before going further I want to make clear that I’m not a codicologist, though I’ve had laboratory experience in the analysis of materials  as part of my own field.

A good first introduction to bookbinding, its history and materials is found in a booklet the Beinecke published for its ‘Travelling scriptorium‘ project.

  • [pdf] Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts: Bookbinding terms, materials, methods and models, (issued by) Special Collections Conservation Preservation Department, Yale University Library (February 2015).

To gain an idea of how much complex matter has been condensed to form the booklet, Szirmai’s book still serves as a kind of ‘conservator’s bible’.

  • J.A. Szirmai, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. 

Other sources:

  • Georgios Boudalis (, eds.), Historical Book Binding Techniques in Conservation (2016).
  • A general guide by The British Library [pdf]. David Pearson, English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800, chapter 2,
  • PJM Marks, The British Library Guide to Bookbinding: History and Techniques. A comprehensive glossary by Don Etherington and Matt T Roberts
  • [pdf] David Pearson, John Mumford, Alison Walker, Bookbindings (British Library Preservation Guide)


The textblock’s binding

It doesn’t take much experience before you get used to the way medieval manuscripts are described in most catalogues.  Some give more, and others less detail but I think few include as much speculative matter and sheer guesswork as the Beinecke’s description of the Voynich manuscript’s content.  The description of its codicology is nearer the norm.

The usual form for a manuscript runs something like this: ‘Origin: southern France or  Spain’;  Date: Fourteenth century.  Binding: sixteenth century Italian’.. ”    The description is normally brief, direct and where precision isn’t possible the parameters are given (e.g. southern France or northern Spain”.)

In the Yale facsimile essay, the text-block’s binding isn’t described in that way, but uses a curiously convoluted expression:

…quires held together in a binding technique typically in use in the 15thC “.

Why not just  ‘textblock binding – 15thC’?  – because that is obviously the impression which the writer wants readers to take.   When a curious phrasing such as this occurs, implying but not saying the binding is fifteenth century, the revisionist must ask why, and what distinction is implied here between  ‘ binding’ and ‘binding technique in use’…  and why no location is offered.

In general terms, we can say that the manuscript’s binder had been trained in European style, a style also adopted for Armenian manuscripts after the Crusader period.  In terms of bookbinding styles, the period from the 8th-12thC is termed ‘Carolingian’; overlapping with the ‘Romaneque’ which is dated mid-11thC to the end of the 14thC, overlapped again by the ‘Gothic’ which is dated early 14thC – 17thC.

The European (or ‘Latin’) style is distinguished by the use of sewing supports: strips of material which support the threads binding the quires of the textblock together.

But when we look at the sewing supports of the Voynich manuscript, we see that they are not ‘typically 15thC European’ at all.

See also

Sewing supports were normally made of skin, but those in the Voynich manuscript are made of bast-fibre which the scientific crew identified as probably flax.

The technical study is clear that, on this point at least, the binding is not ‘typically fifteenth century’.  It is the editorialising hand which is responsible for blurring that information by using the roundabout phrase we saw above: ‘a binding technique typically in use in the 15thC’ .

How unusual are flax supports for the fifteenth century?

Below is a diagram from the Beinecke’s ‘Travelling Scriptorium’ booklet’s section on Gothic Romanesque bindings, which are dated (from the second half of the 11thC – end of the 14thC).

It mentions vegetable-fibre supports, but adds the slightly cryptic “later”.

In the British Library’s bookbinding guide there is no mention of vegetable-fibre supports other than in connection with books made after about 1650:

The supports in early books are commonly strips of leather or tawed skin, and from the mid-seventeenth century cords made of cotton, linen, hemp or silk were used.

So although the samples of vellum which were radiocarbon dated gave a range of 1404-1438 (within the ‘Gothic’ period in bookbinders’ terms), there must be some question about whether or not the quires were bound at that time.

And now we find another editorialising, soothing, and non-specific comment by ‘e.h.’ which effectively says, ‘Ah, well, no… not typically fifteenth-century, but don’t you worry about that’.  It says:

…  it is not unheard of for a fifteenth-century  manuscript to be sewn onto flax supports, as the Voynich manuscript is, [but] it is less usual than the use of leather supports.

So now having first been guided to think the binding ‘typically 15thC’, we are shepherded towards thinking it merely ‘less usual’ – by way of “not-unheard-of'”, a phase which usually means ‘very rare’.

The message from ‘e.h.’  seems to be – in effect- that we shouldn’t worry our little heads about the fact that the scientific study doesn’t match up with the theoretical narratives.   ‘e.h.’ simply asserts it is just ‘less usual’ without providing a single comparative instance to justify that statement.   What is one to think? That vegetable-fibre supports are just ‘less usual’ or that they are very unusual but ‘not unheard of’ or that they are really ‘typically in use in the fifteenth century?

The Grove Encyclopaedia’s entry under ‘Bookbinding’ describes  tawed leather as the most common form of support from the eleventh to sixteenth century, referring in general to ‘Carolingian bindings’ as using flax supports (not just those found in St.Gall by Szirmai) and in that context adds in passing that “cords were re-introduced in the fifteenth century” though without any details or added comment.

  • Gerald W. R. Ward (ed.), The Grove Encyclopedia of Materials and Techniques in Art (2008) p.42.

What is being omitted is anything explaining the significance of this disparity.  Might it tell us more about where the manuscript was made, or by whom?

So the revisionist him/herself must ask the questions and hope to find informed answers elsewhere, and from an up-to-date specialist, for preference.  This is not as easy as it might once have been.  Over the past fifteen years or so, the manuscript has become notorious: less for its inherent difficulty than for the fact that a few hard-core theorists aren’t keen on specialists who have no interest in becoming a ‘team players’.  A specialist might comment in private but few for publication.

Finally,  I decided to ask this question about how ‘not unheard of’ flax supports are at  Erik Kwakkel’s codicology blog.  To keep other readers’ attention on it as a technical question about codicology, I phrased it in neutral terms – that is, without  the ‘V’ word.

Professor Kwakkel was kind enough to respond himself (also letting me know that Szirmai’s book might be had through Scribd):

I did not know anything about flax used for this purpose, but your query prompted me to consult Szirmai … and he discusses the materials at various locations. At [p.]117, importantly, while discussing Carolingian bindings, he describes a sample research he undertook based on St Gall manuscripts, 9th-12th. Flax is found in 15 samples. More data at p. 190. I would check that out.

 Carolingian? As said above, in bookbinding terms the Carolingian period is 8thC -12thC .  Not ‘typical 15thC’.

We can also be pretty sure that if Prof. Kwakkel has never encountered flax sewing supports, that ‘e.h.’s    “not-unheard-of”  may be interpreted as “extremely unusual indeed“t least until someone produces fifteenth-century examples. And they should prove interesting and informative,

Meanwhile it seems that the use of  vegetable fibre sewing-supports is normally associated with either  the Carolingian period (8th-12thC) or with books of the early modern period “from the mid-seventeenth century onwards”.

In that case, to argue that they were also used … somewhere or other, by some binders or other… in the fifteenth century, ‘e.h.’ would have done better to cite examples than trying, as s/he did, to slide over this anomaly, another among the many which the manuscript presents.

Why ‘e.h.’ took the other course, one can only guess.  I certainly don’t imagine that the Beinecke staff sit huddled about in cowls  ‘conspiring’ to delude the public.

Perhaps ‘e.h.’ has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to maintain the old narratives found fossilised in the Beinecke’s sixty-year old catalogue entry and  its current website ‘Introduction’ – labouring to harmonise those ‘canonised myths’ with the new technical information that offers objections to those stories.  But the new information is precisely what we need to know what to discard.

Reading through the ‘Physical Materials’ essay, the editorialising comments evoke both sympathy for that dilemma and a certain quiet outrage.   ‘e.h.’ seems to imagine readers as if members of a family among whom any difference of opinion is on par with a personal quarrel, and ‘e.h.’ in the role of parent, keeping everything nice and calm, creating a ‘middle ground’.

Hence – the radiocarbon dating has the vellum early fifteenth century, so while the binding is far from being ‘typically fifteenth century’  ‘e.h.’ finds a nice middle way:  ‘binding technique typically in use in the fifteenth century’.  It really won’t do.

But should anyone notice the ‘fudge’ and what it implies that the sewing-supports are not skin, but fibre… well, ok. (says ‘e.h.’) but they are still sort of fifteenth century… well, ‘not unheard of’… just ‘less usual’.

But that does not seem to be true, does it?

No mention in Szirmai, or in any other reference that I could find…  but I’m not a codicologist.  If anyone locates some, do let us know.  We may learn a little more about where the manuscript was made.

It seems to me that what was better to  have been said – perhaps ought to have been said  –  if ‘e.h.’ had to editorialise at all – is that  Voynich manuscript’s bookblock is not bound in the way typical of fifteenth-century European manuscripts, but its use of vegetable fibre for the sewing supports finds comparison in Carolingian-period manuscripts and again in the seventeenth-century style for binding books. And – if ‘e.h.’ knew of another instance, what it was, and where that manuscript was bound.

Doubtless there is something about the  binding ‘technique’  found in common with fifteenth-century bindings, but we’re left to guess what that might be.  The number or distance of stations, perhaps?  Type of stitch?

But when ‘e.h.’s efforts to ‘harmonise’ cross the line from just soothing noises to plain misrepresentation of fact, it’s a bit much.

Another interpolation in the scientific report says that the manuscript “was known to have been in Rudolf’s library”.   Now, that’s just not true.  No-one ever claimed to have seen it there and no document has ever been found from Rudolf’s archives (or anywhere else) which substantiates that rumour.   At this point in the ‘Physical Materials’ essay  the revisionist takes their pencil and writes in the margin something along these lines:

“a third-hand rumour, unsubstantiated by the person relating it, or by any evidence since discovered.  The  allegation is that Mnishovsky repeated a rumour to the effect that Rudolf  allegedly had paid the person who brought the manuscript to Prague the sum of 600 ducats, had owned it, and that the text was by Roger Bacon, the Englishman etc.  To date, no documentary or other evidence supports any item of those three. See Marci letter of 1665/6”.

Why did ‘e.h.’ feel it necessary to insert that reference to Rudolf into the scientific report, whose subject is the manuscript’s pigments, inks and binding?  I don’t believe that anyone is trying to argue that the vellum, inks, pigments or binding are sixteenth or seventeenth-century… are they?

No, but as ‘e.h.’ might have realised, this issue with the sewing supports does have the potential to become a can of worms.

If a theorist were to opt for the ‘seventeenth-century’ use of flax sewing supports over the ‘Carolingian’,  it might raise doubt as to whether our present manuscript has just the same form as that owned by  Jakub  Hořčický.   Baresch does suggest that his volume was bound already, calling it a ‘book’ when writing to Athanasius Kircher in  c.1635-6  1639:

“…And so I ordered a certain old book to be transcribed in part, with the writing closely imitated (the bearer of this letter will inform you that he saw it with his own eyes). A year and a half ago I sent that writing to your Reverence….. “

He doesn’t say how much was copied, or whether that bound, or even if the book was disbound to make the copies, but the technical essay says there is no sign of the quires’ having been bound earlier.  It is a surprising finding, given that the map seems to have been rebound, and the disorder observed in the manuscript has often been speculated a result of disbinding and rebinding.  But there you are.

And against any theory of a  ‘seventeenth-century binding’  I should think the fact that Wilfrid attributed the manuscript to the thirteenth century would be a fair argument.  Nor was his opinion denied by many specialists of that time, including  E. P. Goldschmidt, author of a two volume study on the subject:

  • E.Ph. Goldschmidt, Gothic & Renaissance Bookbindings Exemplified and Illustrated from the Author’s Collection.

That work was first published in 1928, but so well thought of that Degraaf reprinted in it a hard-back cased edition forty years later.

I’m content to accept the fifteenth-century dating for the ‘standard quires’, but have long thought the content suggests an effort at very close reproduction of material which pre-dates that period.

Who knows? Perhaps the persons told to ‘copy exactly’ copied the binding as exactly as they could, too.

Who knows?  No-one knows yet, and it won’t help us know more to do what ‘e.h.’ has done and obscure the significance of  newer and better information by ‘smoothing over’ the difference between that information and the old, tired guesses.

To treat fairly with researchers – and with those trusting the ‘Yale’ imprint when buying their copy of the facsimile edition –  accurate information, and accurate explanations of its significance is what the study needs.

Postscript –

re ‘linen or hemp’,  Szirmai notes (n.9  p.91) that while “There are no non-destructive methods available to distinguish between flax and hemp; the drying twist test (Textile institute 1985 p. 225) can be scaled down and carried out under a low-power microscope, but it requires a sample of a number of elementary fibres of 20 to 30 mm length.

  • Brenda Collins and Philip Ollerenshaw (eds.), The European Linen Industry in Historical Perspective. Oxford University Press, (2003).
  • Bert dewilde, Flax in Flanders throughout the centuries, history technical evolution folkore (1999).
  • The Cambridge History of Western Textiles, (2003).

edited and corrections made – 12th May 2019.

The ‘Physical Materials Essay’… to be continued…

Expert Opinion: Myth vs Materials Science Pt3

Header Illustration, from Erik Kwakkel. ‘The work of the scribe’ (essay for the Khan Academy).
Two previous:

diagram corrected – 18/04/2019.

NOTE (20th Dec. 2022) –

The following information about the samples taken for radiocarbon-14 dating comes courtesy of H.R. Santacoloma, who photographed a slide that was presented by the analyst, Greg Hodgins, at a Voynich conference.

from Quire 1 (folio 8):  returned a raw result:  490±37, which works out to 1423 to 1497.
from Quire 3 (folio 26)  ….  514±35, which works out to 1401 to 1471.
from Quire 6 (folio 47) ….  506±35, which works out to 1409 to 1479.
The fourth sample was taken from Quire 9 (folio 68) which, after the necessary cleaning yielded … 550±35, which works out to 1365 to 1435.

For more detailed discussion and varying views, readers might read comments to Nick Pelling’s post ‘Radiocarbon dating and the Voynich Manuscript‘, ending with valuable contributions from Karl.  Of course, I assume you’ll read the main post too.  Some of the same information in that post may be found repeated at Rene Zandbergen’s


As far I can discover no written description of the Voynich manuscript’s  structure had been made before 1967, when  Barbara Shailor described its collation for the Beinecke Library’s catalogue record.

I-VII^^8 (f. 12 missing),

VIII^^4 (leaves foliated 59 through 64 missing from center of quire),

 IX^^2 (double and triple fold-out leaves),

X^^2 (1 triple fold-out),

XI^^2 (1 quadruple fold-out),

XII^^2 (f. 74 missing, followed by stubs of conjugate leaves),

XIII^^10, XIV^^1 (sextuple fold-out),

XV^^4 (1 triple and 1 double fold-out),

XVI^^4 (1 double fold-out; ff. 91, 92, 97, 98 missing, 2 stubs between 94 and 95),

XVII^^4 (2 double fold-outs),

XVIII^^12 (ff. 109-110, central bifolium, missing).

In 2017, one of the  essays in Yale’s photo-facsimile edition*  included a brief comment about the quires:

* hereafter: ‘Yale facsimile edition’; the  limited edition, reproduction facsimile is published by Ziereisfacsimiles.

The book consists of 18 quires (sections), some of which include 4 bifolia (folded leaves that form 4 pages), others include 1, 2,5 or 6 bifolia. There are 11 foldouts of various sizes and configurations…. (p.24).

  • A. Bezur, D. D.Driscoll, M-F Lemay, E. Mysak, J. Stenger and P. Zyats, ‘Physical Materials’  in Raymond Clemens (ed.), The Voynich Manuscript,  Yale University Press (2016) pp. 23-37.-

A diagram showing the manuscript’s construction carries the caption:

“The Voynich manuscript consists of 20 quires held together in a binding technique typically in use in 15thC Europe. The quantity and style of the foldouts are unusual for the time. Several leaves… were removed or lost at some time.”

The general reader is left  with an impression that the manuscript’s construction differs from the  norm for Latin (western Christian) Europe only by being “a little unusual” or “a little ahead of its time” while the fact is that a century’s effort to discover any comparable manuscript in the Latin corpus has failed.

*-failed’... save that there is a reasonable possibility that some, at least, of the images used to fill the calendar’s centres are linked to Norman era Anglo-French illustrations for the zodiac and/or for Thomas of Cantimpre’s  De naturis rerum.  (The second item  was provided, fairly  recently, by Koen Gheuen’s research into its unusual form for Cancer).

What those codicological descriptions lack is any indication to the reader of just how unlike the construction of  European manuscripts is that of MS Beinecke 408 ,  or what significance this may have  – in terms of comparative codicology – for efforts to discover the origin of matter now informing the text and imagery.   As Agati says:

Given the importance of these assembling operations, a manuscript scholar has to observe every little detail, stressing the homogeneity of the situation where the quires still today seem to be regular. In the opposite case, he has to indicate, scrupulously, all that seems to be anomalous in the attempt to find a possible explanation.

  • Maria Luisa Agati, The Manuscript Book. A Compendium of Codicology, (English translation by Colin W. Swift), Studia Archaeologica 214 (revised and updated edition, 2017).  p.160

This post provides initial sources and background for researching questions raised by the Voynich manuscript’s quires and collation.

A codicologist’s Vocabulary [pdf].

This extended glossary was developed from a conference paper which its author  (J.P. Gumbert) had delivered at the  Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität,  in Munich in 2004.

A  formal codicological assessment, today, is expected to consider, and to include where relevant, the wider perspectives of comparative codicology.

Comparative Codicology – its importance.

Codicology is a science. Comparative codicology is a highly specialised branch of that science and, like any other active science, is evolving.

Some curators and scholars were accustomed to consider a manuscript in the broader context and one sees such comment made long before the 1990s but as a formal discipline, comparative codicology’s growth followed the publication of Beit-Arié’s landmark paper in 1993:

  • Malachi Beit-Arié, ‘Why comparative codicology?’ Gazette du livre médiéval, n°23. Automne 1993. pp. 1-5

The last twenty-five years has seen a parallel and mutually-enhancing revolution in laboratory studies and techniques, and in the quality of comparative codicological studies.   Some idea of the range and depth now informing the latter can be gained by considering these abstracts – for papers delivered at the University of Hamburg’s Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures in 2017.

  • [pdf]  “Manuscripts East and West – Towards Comparative and General Codicology” 17 – 19 October 2017
Nick Pelling’s contribution

Before going further, I want newcomers to realise  that the study of this manuscript’s codicology is fairly said to begin with research done by Nick Pelling.

He raised the matter in conversations to the first mailing list, and then in his book (2006) and later in his ciphermysteries blog.

Interested chiefly in possible consequences for those working on the written part of the text  of disruption and loss from the quires,  Pelling attempted to reconstruct what he believed was the contents’  original order while advocating such cutting-edge techniques such as multispectral scans –  well  before the Beinecke library undertook such work.

It was not until about six years had passed with little response – not until about 2013 or so – that others added to the usual reproduction of the Shailor description (with or without illustrations) some few of Pelling’s observations, but nothing followed of any substance, despite the vital information embodied in y a manuscript’s form, composition and materials.  Such comments as do appear, today, seem chiefly aimed at reassuring us – against the obvious  – that the manuscript is no more than a ‘little unusual for its time’. The question is rather just how unusual it is for the place.

Codicological structure of MS Beinecke 408:

The following diagram of the Voynich manuscript’s quires was created by Peter (surname not provided) the designer of the facsimile edition.  It was included in the  ‘Physical Materials’ essay.  This scan comes from my own copy; I hope Yale won’t mind my adding the quires’ descriptions.

Quire classes:

Binions. Single bifolium

preferred practice today reserves ‘binion’ for a quire of two bifolios and uses ‘single bifolio’ for a folded pair of pages – but researchers should be aware that terminology may differ between sources. (Note added 27/04/2019)

Shailor’s catalogue record posits three  binions singles (as quires 12, ^16, and ^18)  though  what we have is a  single folio as Quire 12 (f.73).  During his talk to the 2012 Voynich Conference, Pelling expressed reservations about  (the posited) “Quire 18”, and there is now a discrepancy between the text of the Yale facsimile’s  ‘Physical Materials’ essay and that of the caption given its diagram ( above).

I don’t have a copy of the original paper, but quote Pelling’s reference to it in a post to his blog, last year: “Codicologically: even though f96v and f99r would at first appear to have had a pair of pages inserted between them at some stage (i.e. f97 and f98), they ended up facing each other in the Voynich’s final state. Moreover, f96v is the last page of quire 17, and f99r is the first page of quire 19: my best reading (that I put forward in 2012 in Frascati) is that there was never any such pair of inserted pages, but that instead someone else had previously misnumbered the final two quires (Quire 19 and Quire 20), and that the two extra pages there were added to account for the ‘Quire 18’ that was never actually there. Perhaps none of this is actually important: but I think there’s a good chance that – contrary to their final folio numbering – f96v and f99r have sat facing each other for some time, perhaps even in the original gathering order.”N. Pelling,’A Possible Internal Voynichese Text Match?, ciphermysteries, (3rd.March, 2018)

folio 73v and detail of excised folios. Remnant of a single bifolium (Quire 12)


  • Erik Kwakkel, Rodney Thomson, The European Book in the Twelfth Century, (2018)
  • Albert Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology No. 9. (2013).

Quaternions are  the norm for quires in  Latin European manuscripts  made in Germany, France, and England before c.1438, but of the Voynich manuscript’s posited twenty quires, only seven are quaternions and together they were placed last (at the top) of the quire-stack before it was bound.

Not unexpectedly, samples taken from those quires returned closely similar radiocarbon dates, and all came from folios whose text is ‘Currier A’ type   Just one sample was tested from a a lower (non-quaternion) quire and it came from Quire 9 (f.68)  half-way down the stack. It returned the earliest raw date: 1400.

The quaternion was also the default for  Byzantine (Greek) manuscripts – as Gregory could say as early as 1886:

‘The unit of construction for a Greek manuscript is the quaternion or quire of four double leaves or of eight pages’

  • Caspar Rene Gregory, ‘The Quires in Greek Manuscripts’, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1886), pp. 27-32.
  • Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffmann, ‘Greek Manuscripts at Dumbarton Oaks: Codicological and Paleographic Description and Analysis’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers
    Vol. 50 (1996), pp. 289-312,

And again,  characteristic of Persian manuscripts, with Yemeni manuscripts’ quaternions attributed to Persian influence in that region.

detail from Quire 7 – a quaternion

the Radiocarbon dating (2011):

Acting on instructions from the persons commissioning the study, the technicians were obliged to abandon the practice of randomising samples. This is why the sampling seems skewed, three of the  four samples taken from that minority group –  specifically from Quire 1 ( f.8 ); Quire 4 (f.26); and Quire 7 (f. 47).

For further details and comment see:

One is often obliged to quote Pelling, whose training as an historian and personal inclination to cryptology kept him able and willing to comment intelligently on new ideas and information about the manuscript, regardless of whether or not it seemed compatible with his own historical theory.  He is not always capable of appreciating insights or researchers frankly denying his theoretical history or his ideas about e.g. iconography or linguistics,  but his technical comments have often proven so valuable that they have been constantly, if selectively, taken up and re-presented on numerous other blogs and websites – with, or without, correct attribution.

Carelessness in attributing such contributions to the study to their original source means that what were in fact sharply original insights about e.g. the written text, or the radiocarbon range may later  appear to newcomers as no more than ‘what everyone says’, a state of affairs I find regrettable  not only in Pelling’s case but in the many others where original insights (of sufficient worth to be taken up) have been similarly cannibalised by individuals ignorant of how things are done, or too eager to gain a reputation they cannot acquire by their own ability.

Note re Currier ‘A’ (and -‘B’):

Jorge Stolfi wrote to the first mailing list in 1998:

INTERLN17.EVT is based on the files:, FSG.NEW and tiltman.txt with some small corrections. The Currier version was originally coded in Currier’s alphabet. I translated it to FSG “enhanced” alphabet using Jacques Guy’s BITRANS program and a set of rules CUR2FSG2 based on a message by Jim Reeds to the Voynich mailing list. The FSG alphabet does not contain the Currier characters 6 and 7. To preserve these, characters 6 and 7 were kept unchanged in the resulting FSG version. Currier 6 usually corresponds to K in FSG, while 7 was transcribed as K or 8 by the FSG team.
I added a few “end of line” – and “end of paragraph” = marks where missing to keep line lengths equal between versions. …

According to the website, it uses the form of a transcription issued by “Jacques Guy and Jim Reeds .. in January 1992”..

detail from Quire 13 – a quinion

Quinions: (quires of five bifolia, amounting to ten folios)

Quire  8 was-  and quire 13 is a quinion.

N.B. The Quinion is  considered characteristic of manuscripts produced on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.

Modern writers tend to associate it chiefly with Islamic manuscripts – e.g.

the overwhelming majority of parchment quires in Arabic manuscripts consist of quinions (i.e. five bifolia, ten leaves).

  • Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers (2009) p.212.
  • François Déroche, Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script (2006) – the standard reference.
  • Élise Franssen, ‘What was there in a Mamlūk amīr’s library? Evidence from a 15th-century manuscript ’,  Ch.15 in  Yuval Ben-Bassat (ed.), Developing Perspectives in Mamluk History. Essays in Honor of Amalia Levanoni, Leiden, Brill, p. 311-332.

However, they are also characteristic of Irish manuscripts.

The standard for Irish medieval manuscripts was the quinion, or five sheets of parchment folded to make a gathering of ten leaves or twenty pages.

  • T M Charles-Edwards, Early Christian Ireland (2000).
  • Robert K. Ritner, Egyptians in Ireland: a question of Coptic Peregrinations’. (pamphlet) Rice University Studies, 62, no. 2 (1976).[pdf]
  • Gregory Telepneff, The Egyptian Desert in the Irish Bogs: The Byzantine Character of Early Celtic Monasticism (2003)
  • C.M., ‘Coptic influence in the Early British Church’, StGeorge Orthodox Ministry, (20th. January 2018)
  • In an English manuscript (Brit.Lib. Harley MS 80) the fourth quire, of paper, is a quinion.

Codicologists who have no involvement in the study of Beinecke MS 408 rarely so much as mention the quinion if their subject is the Latin codex. It doesn’t appear at at all (for example) in  Mathisen’s chapter on Palaeography and Codicology, though when summarising the codex’ historical development, he says in connection with the last centuries bc:

By the first century bce, parchment codex notebooks were being used, like codices made from wax tablets, for rough drafts, keeping accounts, and so on. In the following century, the codex came into increasing use as a means of copying literary works. Each group of folded pages with a common internal fold is known as a ‘quire’ or ‘gathering’. Early codices were of a single-quire format, but the bigger the book, the more clumsy this method was; fatter books were liable to crack at the spine, and the outer pages had to be much wider than the inner ones. Thus, it was eventually found more practical to bind several quires into books of whatever length one desired. The sixteen-page length, the ‘quaternion’ (tetrad¯es in Greek), made from four folded sheets, became standard; although one also encounters quires of other sizes, ranging from binions (two sheets) and ternions (three sheets) on up. Beginning in late antiquity, the bottom of the last page of each quire was often marked with a sequential quire number, or ‘signature’, for example, ‘Q III’, or ‘the third quaternion’. These numbers facilitated binding, and also are very helpful in reassembling books that have come apart or survive only in a fragmentary state. (pp.133-134.)

  • Ralph W. Mathisen, ‘Palaeography and Codicology’, Part II, Ch.7 of  Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (2008)  (pp. 140-168).
  • review by : Kenneth B. Steinhauser for Church History and Religious Culture, Vol.90 Nos 2-13 (2010) pp.345-493

The information from the sources above are reinforced by an important palimpsest from Mount Sinai, which shows that quinions were still employed in Syriac manuscripts shortly before the time of the Islamic conquests.  This codex is known as the ‘Syriac Galen Palimpsest or SGP.  Beneath its tenth-century Christian text lies a  sixth-century copy of Galen’s work on drugs.    Kessel and Smelova write:

It was established that the original manuscript must have consisted of at least 22 quinions, 14 of which have survived in full or in part. The parchment is folded flesh side in, and thus each quire begins and ends with the hair side. As it was possible to recognise two quire signatures in Syriac numerals – waw for quire six (see illustration 1) and tēt for quire nine, it could be deduced that three quires were missing from the beginning of the manuscript and that the preserved text starts with quire four.

  • [pdf] Grigory Kessel and Natalia Smelova, ‘Sinai Syriac manuscripts in exile’

This is another telling point, for (as Beit-Arié has noted), the standard Latin practice was to have the flesh side outermost – though an exception is offered by quires in  Brit.Lib. Harley MS 80′.

Beit-Arié’s comments on the quinion provide more detail and more nuance than  other sources:

The quinion composition was the standard composition in the Middle East (in all Semitic manuscripts) and in Italy in all the dated [Jewish] manuscripts, which comprise around a third of all the dated Hebrew manuscripts. Nor are the several sizes of senion composition, which was the secondary composition used in Hebrew manuscripts in zones of Sefardic book culture (and was common among Latin parchment manuscripts in the 13th and 14th centuries, see below n. 48) consistent with the assumption that quires were created by folding the sheet. Collette Sirat proposes that the odd (quinion – five folios) composition of the early non-Hebrew codex quires written in the Orient were suitable for papyrus, which was rolled into a scroll after its manufacture, and then cut into any number of sheets,.

to which he adds (note 48)

48 For examples of manuscripts localised in the Orient and Italy and inscribed by immigrants who continued to employ the script of their country of origin for many years but whose book craft reflects – entirely or at least partially – the practices of the region in which they were active, see Beit-Arié, Hebrew Codicology, pp. 104-109.  MS Oxford, Corpus Christi College 133 is to my mind the most instructive illustration of the problematic and complicated nature of Hebrew codicology and palaeography, due to the unique mobility of the Jewish people. This manuscript, inscribed in the early, square and semi-cursive Ashkenazic script, is a copy of a prayer book whose unique text version is presumably descended from the custom of French Jewry, used by the Jews of England before their expulsion in the twelfth century. On two pages which were left blank (fols. 349v and 350r) numerous records were added attesting to payments received from prominent Christians from all over England (be it Bath, Norwich, Exeter or Winchester), half of which had been identified as having been active at the end of the twelfth century. Most unexpectedly, the records — inscribed no doubt by a moneylender who was manuscript’s owners at around 1200 C.E. — were in Judaeo-Arabic in a Sefardic (Andalusian) cursive script! The Sefardic owner of the prayer book noted that his records included מא כאין לי מן די אנא הונא פי אנגלטירה (‘all that I own since being here in England’. See Beit-Arié, Makings, p. 138 (translation and transliteration of the document by Ephraim Wust), pp. 147-148 (plates of the records); Beit-Arié, English appendix (identification of the local English notables by Zefira Anton-Rokéah).

  • M. Beit-Arié, Hebrew Codicology: Historical and Comparative Typology of Hebrew Medieval Codices based on the Documentation of the Extant Dated Manuscripts Using a Quantitative Approach (Preprint internet English version 0.1)  [link includes pdf for the English summary and Hebrew text. Another pdf link here]

There seems little doubt that use of the quinion and larger gatherings originated in the eastern Mediterranean and became part of the western Mediterranean and insular traditions only by direct connection to the eastern side, occurring in Irish manuscripts and in Jewish and Arabic works.

Here, one is again reminded of the extraordinary precision of Erwin Panofsky’s evaluation of the manuscript in 1932.  He not only dated it accurately (1410-1420-1430), but identified Jewish and Islamic influences in it.  Since he was apparently never asked to write a paper, or to elaborate, we cannot know what exactly informed his judgement, but the presence of quinions and larger gatherings may have been a factor.

  • Javier del Barco, The Late Medieval Hebrew Book in the Western Mediterranean: Hebrew Manuscripts and Incunabula in Context (Brill. 2015). Explores “the production, circulation, transmission, and consumption of Hebrew texts in the western Mediterranean (mainly Iberia, Provence, and Italy) between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries”

To illustrate how quire-types  help us date (as well as place) a manuscript, the following table shows changes over time in Armenian manuscripts from the 11th- to the 16th centuries.

from: Kouymjian, D., “Notes on Armenian Codicology. Part 1: Statistics Based on Surveys of Armenian Manuscripts,” Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Newsletter no. 4 (July 2012), pp. 18-23.

  • Dickran Kouymjian, ‘Notes on Armenian Codicology.  Part 1: Statistics Based on Surveys of Armenian Manuscripts’, Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies Newsletter (4th. July, 2012) pp.18-23.  [pdf]

Senion (a gathering made up of six bifolios)

There are no senions in Beinecke MS 408,  though they occur in certain European manuscripts, such as the often-mentioned  Brit.Lib. Egerton MS 747,

  • Brit.Lib. Egerton MS 747,  Dated to c.1280-1350 Made in southern Italy (possibly Salerno), its first nine senions (ff.. 1-108) contain a copy of the Tractatis de herbis believed an autograph by the author ofthat work, Bartholomæus Mini de Senis (ff.1-106r) and three folios showing images of plants, these continuing into the first side of the following quire, a quaternion (ff. 106v-109r), the remainder being occupied by a lunar calendar (f. 111r) and text in a mid-14thC Gothic cursive hand. Then follow three more senions (quires xi-xiii; ff. 112-147) containing practical medicinal-pharmaceutical texts including the Antidotarium Nicolai ( ff. 112r-124v) and a Synonyma (ff. 128v-146r:).

This recalls Beit-Arié’s comment that:

” senion composition … was the secondary composition used in Hebrew manuscripts in zones of Sefardic book culture (and was common among Latin parchment manuscripts in the 13th and 14th centuries)”.

The table above shows the senion  also characteristic of Armenian works from that time.

But there are no senions in the Voynich manuscript.

Codicology can not only lend weight to a proposed provence; it can also argue against it.

Elsewhere, Beit-Arié defines more exactly what he means by  “Sefardic book culture” (see ‘details’ following) saying, among other things,

Thus, all the surviving dated códices iocalised in Siciiy, which was under the rule of the Crown of Aragón since 1282, show Sefardic physiognomy and should be regarded as an offshoot of the Spanish entity. Likewise, the Iberian type of book spread beyond the Peninsula and across the Pyrenees.

The distinctive codicological features and the three modes (square, semi-cursive and cursive) of the type of script which characterise Hebrew códices fabricated in Spain since at least the early twelfth century, typify also Hebrew manuscripts produced in other regions and territories which were dominated by Spanish kingdoms either politically or culturally.
Thus, all the surviving dated códices iocalised in Siciiy, which was under the rule of the Crown of Aragón since 1282, show Sefardic physiognomy and should be regarded as an offshoot of the Spanish entity. Likewise, the Iberian type of book spread beyond the Peninsula and across the Pyrenees. Since 1202, the date of the earliest extant Iocalised and dated Hebrew codex in Provence, all the manuscripts produced in Provence and Bas-Languedoc reflect Iberian technical practices, visual configuration and book script. This diffusion of the Iberian booklore followed the political incorporation of a large part of Provence into Catalonia at the beginning of the twelfth century, and the arrival of scholars who fled from Andalusia after the Almohad invasión and the destruction of Jewish centres in the middle of the twelfth century.
Consequently, Provence and lower Languedoc were incorporated into the Sefardic scribal entity, as it was culturally integrated with Spanish Jewry in general. But the Iberian Hebrew scribal entity encompassed also a vast área south east of the Peninsula and across the sea – the Maghreb. All the surviving dated códices fabricated in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria share with the Iberian manuscripts codicological practices and type of script. However, the North African scribal tradition cannot be depicted as merely an offshoot of the Iberian one. Cultural-historical evidence as well as extant Maghrebi Hebrew códices dating already from the tenth century – about a century and a half before the extant earliest dated Spanish manuscript – attest that North África, mainly Tunisia and its main Jewish academic centre Kairuan, which attracted students from Spain, must have been the origin and the inspiration for the Jewish scribal tradition of Iberia. It is very likely that oíd Maghrebi practices and script were adopted by Hebrew scribes in tenth-century Mosiem Spain. The amazing economic and cultural development of the Jewish communities in the Peninsula from one hand and the decline of the Jewish population in the Maghreb soon resulted in an invert process of influence. (pp.162-163.)
  • M. Beit-Arié, ‘Colophoned Hebrew Manuscripts Produced in Spain and the Distribution of the Localised Codices’, Signo 6 (1999) pp.161-178, [pdf]

The structure of the The Missal of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli (1402-1405) Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum MS 30 offers an example in proof of Beit-Arié’s comment about Italian manuscripts (quoted above, under Quinions):

The codicological structure is highly regular. Most quires consist of five bifolios (quinions). The exceptions are quire 1 (six bifolios [a senion] common in Calendars), and quires 15 and 30, each comprising a single bifolio (fols. 131-132 and fols. 273-274 respectively).

One example of a senion in a late fifteenth-century German manuscript is provided by Codex Germanicus 6,  described as “a personal notebook, in Middle High German, dated to 1450. Codicologists have noted that  its “25th quire is very likely to have initially been a senion, but appears in the bound manuscript as a 7-bifolium quire” (p.128) – in other words, a septenion(!)

  • Ira Rabin, Oliver Hahn, and Mirjam Geissbühler, ‘Combining Codicology and X-Ray Spectrometry to Unveil the History of Production of Codex germanicus 6’ [pdf]

and – just by the way – Senions were the norm for Greek Manichaean manuscripts on parchment.

Septenion (A gathering made up of seven bifolios.)

Quire 20 is calculated as having been a septenion,*

* – a term so rarely seen that I almost despaired of finding it attested.

(details) recto/front and verso/back of folio 103 – the septenion

To separate sentences or verses with a  rosette is characteristic of Persian and Islamic works; the form of this  ‘star-flower’ I have not seen in any Islamic work and its purpose may be different. It  would appear to have significance, since these motifs in Quire 20 are not drawn uniform, but with variations in number of points and whether the centre is coloured.

update – June 22nd., 2021.  Septenions are sometimes found in western manuscripts. An interesting example from the first half of the fifteenth century is in a manuscript at Harvard – or at least that ms. was at Harvard in 1905. See: E. K. Rand, ‘A Harvard Manuscript of Ovid, Palladius and Tacitus’, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1905), pp. 291-329.


There are 11 foldouts of various sizes and configurations….

For the manuscript’s fold-outs, nothing comparable has been found in any Latin manuscript to date, not of the fifteenth century nor earlier. Concertina-fold books were characteristic of regions east (and north-east) of Arabia, attested in China from the Tang period (7th to 10thC )

  • e.g.  illustration in ‘A Chinese-Tibetan bilingual Buddhist manuscript‘, International Dunhuang Project (blogpost Nov. 20th., 2015).
  • Peter Francis Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century (Brill: 1998) p.43.

It might also be as well to recall  Sirat’s comment (quoted earlier), though it was made in a different context, because  Georg Baresch evidently believed the manuscript  a copy of matter which was – in some sense –  ancient and ‘Egyptian’.

Another possibility is that the fold-outs are copies to vellum of content from rolls or scrolls.

Glen Claston’s comment on Quire 13.

Some years ago, in commenting on the Voynich manuscript’s ‘Quire 13’ Glen Claston (Timothy Rahel) made some worthwhile observations.  His speaking of ‘Galenic’ medicine is of interest, given the content in the Sinai palimpsest.  Responding to a reader’s request,  Nick Pelling revisited that conversation. (24th March, 2016).

While I do not agree with  Claston’s use of  ‘medical’, ‘balneological’ etc. Claston was at least aware (as many newcomers are not) that use of Newbold’s terms was never meant to imply they were accepted as formal descriptions for the content itself, but were simply adopted as ‘tags’ to assist conversations in the first mailing list.

minor typos corrected 27th April 2019