Some human figures in the Voynich manuscript hold an object. Their number is relatively small – I’d guess one in ten – and most of these objects are hard to identify unambiguously. What did you expect, right? For this study, we will not look at clothing and headgear, since many nymphs do appear to wear some kind of headband , veil or crown.

Furthermore, we will not discuss the stars held by many figures – those deserve a separate post, just like the “barrels” in which nymphs sit. Finally, the various tube-like contraptions are also not considered. See the image below for an example of these types. This leaves mostly handheld items.

Star-holding, barrel-sitting and tube-handling will not be discussed.

In this post, I will attempt to construct a systematic overview of these objects, without interpreting their meaning on an individual level.

There are some common properties of these objects. Ignoring one or two exceptions, we can say that:

  • They are held in one hand
  • There is no meaningful interaction between the object and another nymph.
  • There is no meaningful interaction between the object and the environment.
  • There is only one clear weapon, which is likely a later addition [1]
  • With the exception of two folios – both on the reverse of the large foldout – a nymph can hold only one object.

My overall impression is that the objects are held, but not used.

The first object we encounter is on f57v, which appears to be a bit separate from other nymphy folios, both in distance and style. It is a white disk or globe, held by a man who is either tired or Asian.


The way he holds the item, up and with a very hooked arm, positioning the globe almost above his head, is unique in the manuscript. Similar poses are found on the two illustrations on the reverse of the large foldout, each placing four figures in a circle.



It is interesting that these eight figures all deviate from the majority of the nymphs in the other sections. They are all clothed and drawn in a different style, some of their poses are unique (seen from the back), they are the only ones holding up to two items. Even going by these objective observations, it seems like a good idea to keep these separate from the nymphs in the calendar section and the bathing section.[2]

The human figures in the calendar section (ignoring the archer) bear no attributes but stars and stars on “strings”. We can thus move on to the bathing section (Quire 13) right away.

A popular pose in this section, which might bear some significance in itself, is to hold the object in the arm, stretched forward or at a very slight upward angle.


It should be clear that the top five figures hold their attribute in much the same way. A similar, yet slightly different pose is seen in the bottom two nymphs. The item held by the one bottom right is very unclear, and might be part of the background. However, the way it is lined seem to suggest a separate object. Let’s say it’s a taco for now.

Then there are some objects held low at the side. These might be less related than the previous group.


Thirdly, there are at least three nymphs who hold their object behind their back, possibly hiding it or indicating that is is out of use. Note that the object held by the bottom nymph is also seen in the first group, though there it has a little spike at the end.


Finally, these don’t really fit any category. We see a nymph holding something in her mouth, one wrapped in a piece of fabric, one manipulating a stream of water, one holding up a ring and… I suspect that the bottom right scene is supposed to depict the one nymph extending the “apple” in front of the other one, though the composition leaves something to be desired.[3]


As a final note, I believe that the concept of “hiding” things is an important one in Quire 13. Some nymphs clearly hold their attribute behind their backs. And there’s also a whole range of nymphs attempting to hide or take things from buckets or pipes while others are secretly looking on. Though I admit that the top scene can also be interpreted in a rather different way.


Look at those gossips…

Conclusion: there are some “separate” folios with nymphs, but when it comes to objects, those differ clearly from the main set of nymphs in quire 13. Within quire 13, there are some patterns. For example, the pose where the item is held outstretched in front of the body appears to bear some significance.

Additionally, there is a recurring theme of hiding and/or finding things. Several objects are held behind the body, and on two folios we see nymphs taking something from, or putting something in a ‘stash’, while others appear to spy in them from a distance.



[1] Diane O’Donovan has long argued that the calendar roundels’ central emblems are late additions. The crossbowman seems like a very clear example of that, given his apparent incompatibility with the rest of the manuscript.

[2] For an in depth analysis of these figures, see Nick Pelling’s post here:

[3] I believe this scene alludes to the Judgement of Paris, but that is something for another post.