NOTE: this is the third part, you will not understand it if you haven’t read these posts first:
- How many shoes are there in the Voynich manuscript? (part 1)
- The Murky Pools of Hidden Feet (part 2)
In the previous posts, I pointed out an important aspect of the “nymph” images in the Voynich manuscript. Each human figure is positioned with reference to a horizontal “base line”. Many figures will be partially beneath the line, hiding their feet, parts of their legs and in some cases more than half of their bodies. The following nymphs, for example, are standing exceptionally low under the base line:
In the first post, we saw that this system appears to convey information in the Zodiac section. On one folio there are always several height levels, and nymphs of the same level tend to form clusters.
This is different in quire 13b. All nymphs are still cut off by a horizontal line, but there is much less variation in their level of height:
In this final post of the series, we will first have a look at quire 13a, which features more individualized figures than those in the quire 13b example above. We will also study the relatively few human figures in the manuscript who fall outside of the two main nymph sections.
Before I show you the first image from 13a, let me rephrase the constant in the previous sections: all nymphs are placed with their feet on some level relative to a horizontal base line. The part of the nymph under the line is hidden, above the line is visible. Nymphs that are completely visible are a clear minority.
Okay, I just wanted to make that clear: always a base line, rarely completely visible. Now here’s the first nymph we see in quire 13a:
There. No base line. If you wonder why this is a big deal, you haven’t been paying attention. Over 400 nymphs in the Zodiac section and quire 13b are all standing or sitting on or in something. From the Voynich perspective, the one pictured above is floating in empty space. There is no horizon, no solid ground, no water surface, no shore.
The next one is a bit better – she’s been given a base to stand on. Yet here too, we see the system so neatly followed in the other sections crumble, in favor of a much more individual depiction.
The nymph is standing on both legs at once, so no standard walker pose. Her toes are touching the brim. If this edge or the blue surface is supposed to be our horizontal line of reference, this would be one of the “blue” nymphs so rare in the other sections.
With the next figure, there are too many lines to see what’s going on. She’s completely visible so I guess another blue one?
And the madness continues! Look at this one, and keep in mind that all hundreds and hundreds of other figures we’ve seen so far were placed on top of a horizontal line, with the part below the line invisible. Just look at this nonsense:
The reason why I am showing this is not in the first place to make a point about quire 13a. No, I want to make a point about the other sections, to show by contrast how well-behaved they are, how systematic, almost mathematical. Like figures in ancient art, you know what to expect of them. Their position, perspective, the way they hold their arms and legs… No such protocol in quire 13a, the Donald Trump of Voynich quires.
(Not true, I like 13a).
The next folio is a bit better, with three orange and one yellow:
The reverse of this folio is the same, some orange and yellow. Oh, and the only standing figure in the MS that faces the viewer. Here we still get a clear cut-off at the knee though:
On the next folio, f79r, we get the second “floater”, with no horizontal line for support. note though that his raised leg and both hands are touching something:
Of the seven figures on this folio, six are completely visible, a trait so rare in the other sections. The remaining one is cut off at the knee (orange).
The reverse folio is fairly standard again, with all oranges and one blue. But look at this one:
It’s being eaten by a fish! And still doing the line thing! The fish’s mouth is its line! The result is that he is standard orange, the line running through the middle of the supporting leg.
Imagine the conversation in the scriptorium;
- “We need someone half in the mouth of a fish.”
- “Right away, boss!”
- “No, no. Feet first. More like… standing in the fish. Like sanding up as if nothing is going on.”
- “Uh…? Okay.”
- “And one of the legs has to be raised as if she’s walking, just like the other figures.”
- “Just a bit deeper in the fish, like until the knee. There, that’s it. Bit more casual, let that arm rest on the shore. Perfect!”
And that’s how it happened.
The next folio is a mixed bag without any clear pattern:
It is clear that orange, with the cut-off at or above the knee is the standard, and this continues into the next folios. There is a pool with a high concentration of red on f 82r:
And that concludes the main nymph sections. In a conversation with Sam G, who holds similar views about nymph-limb related phenomena, we concluded that it would be interesting to compile tables of these features and compare their statistics. With such a future project in mind, and taking into account what I have learned from this series of posts, I would definitely start in the Zodiac section. There, the nymphs appear to adhere most strictly to formal conventions. If there is some system in the placement compared to the base line, or the position of the arms, this section will offer the purest data.
Quire 13b would do as well, but it contains more difficult scenarios, like overlapping nymphs. Quire 13a, in contrast, is completely unsuitable. There are much fewer figures on these folios, and they behave in erratic and individualistic manners. That said, I have argued in the present post that placement compared to the horizontal line is still important here as well. The data is just too limited and variable to use as a starting point.
There are a few human figures outside of the main nymph sections, mostly in circular diagrams. None of these are shown in full – they are generally cut off around the waist or even higher. Some representative examples:
It is marginally interesting to note that both human figures in the marginalia ignore Voynich physics and float freely, without any reference to a horizontal line. But they were likely added later, or at least outside of the main work – that’s why they are considered marginalia.
The human figures in the centres of the month roundels are relatively normal, just standing on the line of the circle. In the Virgo figure, it is interesting to see that she was drawn a bit above the circle, but that a line was added to avoid a floating look.
Similarly, many of the animals have had some ground added for footing:
This leads me to a more general, final conclusion about this series of posts. The Voynich illustrator found it incredibly important that figures were not just floating in mid air. They have to be standing on something. This might be an important thing to consider when looking for comparative imagery.
Just an example from the Aratea tradition. Have a look at these Gemini. From the perspective of the Voynich, these guys might as well be floating in outer space:
Now compare this to the 9th century BSB Clm 210, which reveals a custom found in several early Carolingian manuscripts:
Just another thing to keep in mind. Enough about feet for a while now.