How many shoes are there in the Voynich manuscript? Take a guess.

A shoe.

Weird question, I know. Can we come up with an estimate without actually having to count them? We know that there are exactly 557 human figures in the manuscript [1]. Easy then, at two feet each that makes for 1114 shoes.

Well, not that easy: most of the nymphs are naked. A quick count teaches us that around fifty figures wear clothes (other than just a diadem or veil). So, one hundred shoes then?

Nope, still not even close. The amount of visible shoes, on a maximum potential of 1114 feet, is eight. Eight visible shoes, spread over just three folios and divided between five figures. And don’t expect any fashion tips either: there’s not much more to them than a line at the ankle.


The man in green, top left, is the male Gemini. His one shoe is the most elaborate one, with no less than three lines for laces. His other shoe, assuming he’s got one, is hidden behind the circle. Beneath him there are, from the same folio, what I assume to be two children of uncertain gender, good for two shoes each. Next, top middle, is the crossbowman with two blue shoes. What might appear to be decorative lines is actually a word, so his footwear appears to be of the simple kind. This observation further enhances the crossbowman’s exceptional status in the manuscript: he is the only one holding an unambiguous weapon and he is the only adult with two visible shoes! Finally, on the right, there is the “abductor” from f80r, another exceptional figure. There’s a simple shoe on his one visible foot, marked by two lines on the ankle.

At this point I may also add the interesting observation that these five privileged shoe owners also all wear a similar garment. The Gemini and the two children appear be dressed in a belted one-piece that reaches below the knees. The colors on the crossbowman suggest that he is wearing two separate pieces. The abductor, then, is drawn in insufficient detail to say much about his clothing, other than that his skirt is cut off above the knee. Despite the differences, these figures may betray the typical male dress. for clothed Voynich figures. Something to look into.

But let’s get back to the matter at hand: what is the manuscript’s problem with shoes? Maybe nothing – about 90% of the figures are naked anyway. But there is something else… Perhaps we should not focus on shoes, but rather on feet and legs in general: they are very often hidden, seemingly with purpose.


Additionally, it seems that there are various levels of “hiddenness”. Understanding this phenomenon might assist us in understanding the nymphs’ meaning altogether. In order to study the hidden feet in a systematic way, I will introduce a scale of four degrees of visibility.


As can be seen in the image, decreasing amount of visibility will be labelled blue, yellow, orange and red. Blue nymphs are completely visible. Yellow figures are cut off somewhere between the foot and the knee, often around the ankle. In orange nymphs the line is on the knee or above it, and finally red means that the line is at the waist or anywhere above.

Many nymphs have one leg lifted, giving rise to two different possible readings. In this case, only the supporting leg will be taken into account. Still we may have to revisit this later. For example, consider the following nymph:


She would be yellow, since the line runs between het knee and ankle. But her second foot appears to be standing on the line, as if she’s climbing stairs. Are we supposed to interpret her as being on both levels simultaneously? Or rising from one to the other? Or perhaps she is just in the standard Voynich “walking pose” and she’s supposed to be seen as entirely on the “yellow” level. All these options are still open, but for now I will classify these cases based on their supporting leg.

Now that we have established the color codes, I can show at a glance why the degree of visibility of the nymphs might be significant. This is the “march” folio, the first one in the Zodiac section. Remember, the redder the figure, the more of it is hidden.


The figures are mostly in “barrels” here, so this is a very red folio. An important note here: in the inner circle, the figures look like bendy ghosts emerging from pipes. It is not always easy to make a call based on their anatomy.

These are the other “barrel” folios:





As expected, mostly reds and oranges here, since the figures are sitting in barrels. However, interestingly, in the final example – the second may folio – there is a clear transition to standing figures. There are some orange barrels in the inner ring, but the outer ring contains orange, yellow and even blue walkers.

There isn’t a clear pattern yet, only perhaps that colors tend to form some clusters, much more so than one would expect in a random distribution. As seen below, this pattern continues into the “all walkers” folios.








We see that yellow is always represented well on the non-tub folios, but the amount of blue and orange nymphs varies. Orange is common but blue remains relatively rare. The crossbowman folio for example is very orange-heavy and contains no blue nymphs. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the feline folio, with no less than six blue nymphs but no clear orange examples.

Gemini, Leo and Libra are relatively blue. Cancer, Scorpio and Sagittarius are on the orange end. Virgo is somewhat in between, with four blues but a large orange cluster as well.

Three additional notes on this section:

(1) On three folios, there are some nymphs standing on top of the outer circle. Their patterns are (L=standing Low, H=standing High):

  • H-L-L-L-H
  • H-L-H-L
  • H-L-L-H

At this point it is impossible to say whether or not this has any meaning.

(2) Four figures are standing on an object, effectively raising their height level one above blue: they stand one step higher than on the top line. An example found to the right of the Virgo figure:

So high…

I must admit that I had never payed attention to this figure, but looking at it from the height color code perspective, it suddenly sticks out.

(3) Finally, and this might help us in the long run, all “queen” figures, the ones with the unique crowns, are blue, i.e. completely visible and standing on the line.


I’ll cut the post here for now, the other sections will be discussed in part 2.

EDIT: part 2 now online.


[1] Voynich forum member VViews was kind enough to perform a complete count of all human figures in the manuscript, reaching a total of 498.

EDIT: Rene Z. pointed out that the total number is 557. I have edited the numbers in this post to reflect this.