I’ve been somewhat neglecting this blog lately (time…) but soon I’ll be able to resume a more regular posting schedule. For today, I’d like to start by sharing a sudden realization that came to me, a veritable Eureka-moment.
A small Eureka, though. Big Eurekas are to be frowned upon in Voynich studies. The “IT’S ANAGRAMMED VOWELLESS LATIN!!!” kind. Before you know it you’ll Get a Theory.
But small Eurekas are wonderful. When certain things you’ve been studying, pondering, questioning, describing… suddenly click and make sense together. When you understand a bit better what you see. No – what you’re meant to see.
The things that had been bothering me are the following, both based on nymph properties I described in previous posts.
- 99% of all nymphs are drawn with reference to a horizontal line – let’s call it a horizon. They are either standing on a horizon, or are sunk a bit behind it, hiding their feet and/or part of their legs. Sometimes weird “bases” are drawn just to give the nymphs something to stand on. This could be attributed to an artistic preference, but it really feels more like an imperative. See my shoe-post for an introduction to this problem.Why is this the case? And what about the two or three exceptions to this rule?
- The way nymphs “walk”. One of their legs (the one closest to the viewer) is always stretched and appears to be supporting the nymph’s weight, while the other leg moves with at times ridiculous freedom. So what’s up with this? In no other manuscript are poses this restricted. Take any normal 15th century manuscript with enough human figures and you will see people standing and walking in all kinds of different ways. Even notoriously stiff Egyptian figures have more freedom of movement than Voynich nymphs. See my post How do Voynich nymphs walk? for plenty of examples.
My initial explanation for the leg positions was that the Voynich really likes the “contrapposto” pose, known from Antiquity and so adored during the Renaissance.
But looking at it objectively, certain nymphs’ poses would make ancient sculptors and Michelangelo cringe. I’m talking about the “silly walk” knee kick, which is common in all “nymph” sections of the manuscript.
Note that again 99% of all nymphs are caught in this paradigm. There are two women who have their legs “entangled” in some way, and two men who walk carelessly without abiding the rules. All other nymphs support their weight on the close leg, which is stretched. The other leg appears to be set in various stages of taking comically large steps. Once again, this is nor normal. Not for real people, not for other manuscripts, not for other art forms.
So in summary, nymphs must walk or stand in a very specific way, and they must do so in reference to a “horizon”.
Time to Step it Up
It seems clear to me that these problems are related ad must be explained together. Both relate to the position or movement of the nymphs, and both likely teach us something about them. So where do we get the following?
- Importance of horizontal level
- Restricted possibility of motion and pose
- Strangely large steps where the knee is raised high
Well, be inspired by this collection of stock images:
I believe that when we see a nymph walking strangely, we are supposed to imagine her climbing or descending. Looking at the month roundels, it makes sense in a way. The nymphs hold stars, and stars rise and set just like the sun. The particular pose of a nymph combined with het position on the horizon would the communicate something about the apparent motion of the star and/or its declination at a given time.
In Quire 13 the same visual language is maintained. We get nymphs apparently climbing an invisible staircase, rising above the surface of the water, and on the other side there are others reclining, slowly submerging themselves into the water. Rising and setting.
That’s all for now. A short post, but, in my opinion, an important insight into the month roundels and the pool pages. On the surface the figures present themselves as bathers, but their formalized poses and emblematic use of objects suggest that we are rather dealing with an elaborate metaphor. This is not new (see O’Donovan) but with this post I hope to have brought us a bit closer to understanding the intention of figures and the way their poses are meant to be understood: a vertical motion is often implied.