In the previous post I listed some characteristic layout features of the Voynich large-plant pages. Now it’s time to see if there are any other plant manuscripts using the same layout. I will only consider the layout, so aspects like drawing style, color, plant types, language and physical material will be ignored. I will simplify the original list by dropping the properties related to the amount of text, because I figured those have more to do with the contents and the language, rather than layout preferences.
- One large plant image per page.
- No imaginary box around the image (text hugs plant).
- Text starts at the top if the image allows this.
- No text under the plant or next to the root.
- Text is left-aligned and starts at the left side of the image.
Let’s have a look at a few typical examples of Voynich layouts to refresh our mental image of the page. The rules lead to three main types of large-plant pages.
Type 1: tall
A tall plant that reaches to the top margin. The text starts as high and as left as possible, taking margins into account.
Type 2: wide
A relatively wide plant that touches the lateral margins before it can reach the top. This leaves space above the plant, which the text readily occupies. If there is a lot of text, additional paragraphs may be added lower, left of the plant.
Type 3: top heavy
When a plant widens at the top, leaving little space to the left of the image, the scribe may choose to start lower, in this case at the stem. This type is relatively rare.
Almost there: single plants and soil text
It’s not uncommon for plant manuscripts, or indeed entire traditions, to be as image-centered as the VM. Indeed, some manuscripts feature page-filling plant drawings with not more than a few words of text. And even manuscripts with smaller drawings and multiple plants per page may contain a few single, full page plants as well.
What I’m interested in here, though, is rather the question how the large image and full paragraph(s) are integrated on the page. A common style quite different from the VM layout is what I call “soil text”. Here the text is placed next to the root, making it look like the ground the plant is growing in. A surprising number of manuscripts and traditions favor this layout. It appears to be especially common in Latin herbals and later traditions.
These are some examples of “soil text”:
The reason why I focus on soil text is twofold: in one way it behaves a lot like VM text, but in another way the two are opposites. As the examples from the Vermont herbal (bottom) and Clm.337 (top) show, soil text often “hugs” the plant, adapting to its shape effortlessly just like VM text. But on the other hand soil text, as the name implies, hugs the plant as low as possible even when there is room next to the flowers. The VM always prefers a high placement for the text, and only crosses the imaginary horizon on a few occasions. Never is there any text beneath the plant.
A large percentage of manuscripts appears to focus on economy of space by combining image and text in the most pragmatic way. They don’t really care about top text (VM) soil text, as long as the page is filled nicely. An interesting example of such an economizing manuscript is the enigmatic Trinity College MS O.2.48. It looks like several images were drawn on the page first, and the text runs on relentlessly beside them. However, just like the VM, it’s got a strong preference for text to start left of the plant, which makes its layout more Voynich-like than one would expect at first glance.
Best Layout Matches
Luckily, there are a few manuscripts which do match the VM’s large plant layout almost completely. I found three manuscripts, though I hope there are more; don’t hesitate to let me know which ones I missed. I will not discuss the Topkapi museum Cod. 2127 here, since not enough of its pages are available online to form an opinion. Moreover, the relevance of the parallel I pointed out earlier transcends layout. That leaves two manuscripts to be discussed in this post: the Juliana Anicia Codex and Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario 194.
Juliana Anicia Codex
A known  candidate for a layout match is the Juliana Anicia Codex (Vienna Dioscorides), a beautifully illustrated late Antique manuscript. A large number of its folios follow the strict standards I have deduced from the VM’s layout. The following images represent completely different plants: left a blackberry plant from the Juliana Anicia, right an oak twig with berry-tentacles from the Voynich. It’s not about the plants though, it’s about the way the image and its accompanying paragraph(s) are stuck together, the way they inhabit the page.
Here’s another example, where the Dioscorides plant represents a (very weird) water lily. Compare the top paragraphs:
This deserved some more digging. I read in Collins’ Medieval Herbals that the Vienna Dioscorides was written in Greek uncial script (basically a late Antique equivalent of ALL CAPS). Those pages which struck me as particularly Voynich-like, however, are written in a fluent Greek minuscule. The following picture is an example of what the Juliana Anicia codex initially looked like (from the facsimile) . Note that image and text are placed on different pages; the only text near the image are labels added at various later stages, and the uncial script from the other side of the page shining through.
This was the original layout of many pages of the codex, as it was produced for Juliana Anicia: text on one page, and a beautiful, page-filling illustration on the next.
In a minority of the cases, the uncial text is placed around the plant, but this is definitely not the rule. Consider the following example, where we get uncial script in “soil text” position, and Greek minuscule in “Voynich position”. On the right a Voynich plant (f23v) for layout comparison.
The origin of the Greek minuscule is explained by Janick & Hummer (2012, pdf):
[The Juliana Anicia Codex] was fully restored, foliated, and rebound in 1406 by the notary John Chortasmenos at the request of Nathaniel, a monk at the St. John Prodromos Monastery in Constantinople, who placed the cursive numberings on the plant paintings and the transcript of the plant titles and some descriptions in Greek minuscule.
So the text with Voynich-like layout was added by a monk (Nathaniel) in Constantinople, in 1406. Remember that the vellum of the VM was dated to 1404–1438. I hope you don’t find it too complicated yet, because there’s more to consider.
Padova, Biblioteca del Seminario, 194
Another manuscript with Voynich-like layout is Padova, Biblioteca del Seminario, 194. Its paper pages were unbound and badly damaged when it was recovered in the mid-20th century. The manuscript is a faithful copy of the Juliana Anicia Codex as illustrated by the image below, with the original from the JAC left and the Padua MS on the right.
It was copied in the middle of the 14th century, which predates the additions of the Voynich-like schollia to the JAC by half a century. However, many of its pages bear text in Voynich-layout, where those in its exemplar are text-free (bar a few labels).
Collins (p. 75) writes that the Padua MS is “thought to have been collated and copied at the monastery of St John Prodromos in Petra in Constantinople during the fourteenth century”. In other words, it was made in the same monastery where the scholia were added to the JAC some 50 years later. The exact date and maker of the manuscript are debated, but it is likely connected to the monk Neophytos and Mioni  dates it between 1339 and 1406, arguing for a date closer to the end of the 14th century.
It is safe to say, then, that the Voynich-like layout in both manuscripts is connected to the monks of the Byzantine monastery of St John Prodromos. So we’ve got a group of monks between 1339 and 1406 adding Greek minuscule to full-page plant drawings, in the rare layout the VM uses as well. And, as things Voynich tend to go, not much is known about this monastery.
Although the monastery of St. John Prodromos τῆς Πέτρας was a major monastic establishment in the capital, little information about it has come down to us. According to tradition its founder was an Egyptian monk named Baras, who lived at the capital during the reign of Theodosios the Great. 
It might be worth a closer look though.
 See Diane O’Donovan’s post on the subject here.
 Many thanks to Marco Ponzi for showing me this image, and his help with the subject of herbals in general.
 See pdf in Italian (slow download for me).
Thank you, Koen! I found your discussion of layout well-thought and informative. Padua, Biblioteca del Seminario 194 seems to be an excellent parallel for some of the features of the VMS herbal layout. If I understand correctly, in that manuscript both the images and the text derive from the Juliana Anicia Codex, but while the images have been faithfully copied with the same layout (a single plant per page) the text has been arranged in the format of “scholia”, using the white space in the illustrated pages.
Some Latin-related herbal pages that can be somehow comparable also seem to include scholia. This is certainly the case for the single page of Yale ms Vault 49 presented by Clemens:
View at Medium.com
My impression is that the text in both UPenn ljs 419 and BL MS Canon Misc 500 was also added later (in both manuscripts, most of the pages have no text):
As you say, Trinity College MS O.2.48 has both similarities (the text is clearly integral to the work and not “marginal”) and differences (e.g. the presence of more than a single plant on each page). An interesting feature of the ms that Rene brought to our attention is that most of the illustrations are shifted to the right, likely in order to make room for the text. This arrangement also appears in the VMS, even if less regularly. This is possibly clearer if one compares with the Padua ms, that preserved the original “image only” layout of the Anicia herbal, with plants placed exactly at the centre of the page.
Yes, precisely, the JAC had the main body of scholia added almost a millennium after its production. In the Padua MS, on the other hand, the text (in what we’ll call “scholia layout”) was added after the image but as far as we know this was still an integral part of the initial composition.
An interesting side note here is that the JAC scholia were added slightly after the production of the Padua herbal. In other words, the Padua herbal does not have the scholia format because of copying from the JAC, which only had the original uncial text (and perhaps some labels?) at the time.
To make it even more interesting, this was done in the same monastery. I obviously don’t want to draw any conclusion yet about the relevance of this place for the VM, since many complex relations are possible. But it is definitely a location to keep in mind: these monks put out Voynich-like layout in plant manuscripts around the late 14th and early 15th century.
I’m not sure if we can say that the VM shifts plants to the right in any systematic way, it’s more irregular. It’s certainly true that in a large number of pages this happened, though at a glance I’d say that middle is equally represented, and there’s a fair number of lefts as well. But yes, it’s certain that all four manuscripts (JAC scholia, Padua, Trinity, VM) strongly favor text that starts left of the plant. In the VM there’s only one case where the text is entirely right of the plant.
I like the Bodley page you linked, that could go straight in the VM layout-wise 🙂
Well actually, coming back to the JAC scholia vs. Padua text, Mioni places the terminus ante quem for the Padua MS at 1406, which is also the date the scholia were added to the JAC. I didn’t fully understand his reasoning from the Italian article…
The idea of looking at the layout is very interesting. I think that, in particular, it would be of interest to see if there is any systematic difference in preferred layout between the two hands used in the herbal illustrations.
On the other hand, the comparison with other manuscripts is perhaps a bit ambitious, for two reasons.
The first is that only a fraction of all illustrated herbal manuscripts have been digitised and you will not even have seen all of these. If you managed to see 10% of all existing illustrated herbals, it would be quite an achievement. However, this is not really a representative sample.
The second is that it is not clear that the described feature is in any way distinctive of anything. It is quite normal for writing to start at the top of a page. Given that the selection involves a number of binary choices:
– single large plants or not
– writing or not
– writing in single or double columns
– writing before or after drawing picture
when starting with several dozen manuscripts one automatically ends up with a small group…
Thanks, Rene. While counting the paragraphs, I got the impression that the tighter hand tends to use more paragraphs per page, but when I went back and counted, it appeared that there wasn’t much difference. I haven’t yet conducted a thorough investigation into this matter, but my first impression was that both hands play by the same rules.
If this indeed turns out to be the case, it is an interesting finding, but one that could be interpreted in basically two ways.
1) The scribes are in fact the same person. Not the first thing I’d think of because both scripts have a very different character in my eyes, but I’ve seen this argument made by others.
2) The scribes were copying from the same example or had the same instructions.
Still it might be worth revisiting this to see if there is any kind of difference in preference between the scribes. The problem with paragraphs is though, that they can be somewhat hard to count, so paragraph number might not be the best parameter.
While preparing this post I was planning to use a binary approach, “scoring” a whole range of manuscripts on a number of parameters. You are right to note that a whole range of factors come into play. A few remarks on this:
– One plant filling a page: this seems significant. It’s a ballsy choice, especially if you don’t have all that much text per plant. No matter how much I appreciate and keep pointing out the Trinity MS similarities to the VM, for example, this MS has an almost opposite mentality in this regard.
– Plant before text: this could be done for a variety of reasons. Some manuscripts seem to do it to conserve space. If you fit your plant drawings onto the page first and then fill every nook and cranny with text, you’re certain to make use of the parchment to the fullest. The effect you get then is that the plants “swim” in text, a bit like on the fragment of the bilingual herbal Marco posted. In the VM, this is not the case, given the large empty spaces on many folios.
So why does a MS place the image before the text, if it is not to save space? Some MSS seem to strive for a certain aesthetic. For example in some of the Italian herbals there is also a lot of free space, and text hugging plants. To my surprise, however, this was very often “soil text” or some other form of low text. So many herbals seem to place text at the roots because this is a less important and smaller part of the plant, giving the flowers and leaves some space to breathe.
You say it’s natural to start top left, and this will certainly explain the layout in some herbals, but “hugging” text so often looks for the lower regions (stem, roots, under plant) while in the VM there are only two examples of text next to roots, and no instances of text under the roots.
And then, again to my surprise, I saw that at least two manuscripts have all the same preferences – which is why I focused the post on them. But I hope we’ll find more examples. The features of this page layout and its relation to scholia seems worth keeping in mind.
Hi Koen, your wrote: -Plant before text: this could be done for a variety of reasons. Some manuscripts seem to do it to conserve space. If you fit your plant drawings onto the page first and then fill every nook and cranny with text, you’re certain to make use of the parchment to the fullest. The effect you get then is that the plants “swim” in text, a bit like on the fragment of the bilingual herbal Marco posted. In the VM, this is not the case, given the large empty spaces on many folios.-
My impression is that saving space is the reason for the text layout in the three manuscripts Padua 194, Trinity O.2.48 and Voynich. The Trinity ms is even smaller than the VMS and basically every square inch has been used for either text or images. It seems that both the illustrations and the text were designed and arranged to perfectly fit together.
Padua 194 apparently presents the large illustrations of the Anicia codex, adapting the text in the white space around them, instead of having separate pages for the text, as in the original. Differently from the Trinity ms, space is managed efficiently, but with large illustrations (the result is that there is much more white space left then in the Trinity, but maybe half the white space as in the original, pre-scholia, Anicia illustrations). It seems natural that having exactly a single page for each plant results in more white space, assuming the length of the text is largely or totally independent of the “need” to fill the page.
The VMS has illustrations that in most cases fully occupy either the width or the height of each page (sometimes both): a different page layout would necessarily have required smaller illustrations (e.g. BNF Latin 17848) or additional pages for the text (e.g. Bodley Canon Misc 408). In this respect, the VMS looks particularly similar to the Padua manuscript: the layout seems to be functional to maximizing the size of the illustrations, without additional pages for the text.
As I said, the only compromise towards adapting the illustrations in favour of the text seems to have been shifting the drawings to right or left (a quick count suggests that the shifting occurs in about 70% of the illustrations, with 55% of the plants being shifted to the right and 15% to the left). This does not happen in Padua 194. In this respect, the VMS seems to be mid-way between the Trinity ms (with small illustrations consistently shifted to the right margin, leaving about half of the total space for the text) and the Padua ms (which has full-page, perfectly centred illustrations, with no concession to the needs of the text).
Marco, you are of course right that having image and text on the same page saves space. Only a minority of manuscripts can afford the lavish layout of the Juliana Anicia, which was a prestigious gift at the time.
So that image and any text are on the same page is not a rare or surprising feature. My question is about *how* this is done.
That the image is drawn first looks to me like a space saving measure only in the Trinity, out of the four MSS in our focus. There, every bit of page is covered, and one way to do this is to draw your images first and then fill up the gaps with text. Still, this betrays an image-focused approach. You could also leave holes in the text for your images, which they will have less freedom.
But my point about the VM (and Padua MS) is that its text couls have been added in a neat block/column. But for some reason they preferred the relatively rare “scholia style”.
I mean, writing from top left is not rare, text hugging the image is not rare and one plant per page is not rare, but the combination of the three is something I’ve only found in some abundance in three MSS. This seemed worth pointing out 🙂
The Anicia Juliana includes both the Voynich style image-first layout and the other type more characteristic of western European mss where a block if set for the image. And since these are so very different in appearance and in degree of naturalism for the illustrations in each type, it might be helpful to look at what else remains of the earlier, eastern Greek, works from which the Anicia Juliana entries were copied. We know the Vms ended up in western Europe, but where the content was gained is still unknown. Obviously, if the Vms was made in mainland Europe as most believe (though it is not known), then it cannot have been an effort made there to imitate the Anician Juliana, which hadn’t yet arrived in the west. So it would seem logical to suggest must look less narrowly than the corpus of Latin herbal manuscripts to understand the origin of this rather unusual, and fairly new sort of layout. Something similar occurs – as perhaps you know – in Iberian mss as early as copies of the Beatus; it is not rare in certain Jewish manuscripts; but if the type was in use as early as the sources for the Anicia Juliana (these dated 2ndC BC-2ndC AD , I believe) then it would seem that’s a more appropriate place to begin – would you agree?
As I understand it, the layout of the JAC’s most Voynich-like pages was only birthed in 1406, when the text in Greek minuscule was added by a monk in a Byzantine monastery. The JAC had text originally, but this was added in a way that is much imitated in later herbals, Latin or otherwise.
No, it is the specific combination of an image-centered page *and* scholia added in the early 15th century which creates the pages that look so Voynich-like. I’m the first to admit that this was not the answer I was expecting when I started this investigation, but one must always follow the evidence.
But of course you are right that the layout seems to point away from central Europe. And I also agree about the likely early origin of the images. But the *combination* of image and text seems to be more complicated than that, and cannot be attributed to early originals. At least not when considering the evidence I discussed here.
Absolutely. The questions raised, for me, – and which I’ll try to find time to explore sometime in the next sixth months or so are these: Is having so relaxed attitude to the ‘text-box’ versus ‘picture-box’ something peculiar to annotated mss from Constantinople; peculiar to the religious environment; or something carried over as an existing tradition – scholiasts having more latitude than scribes? The Anicia Juliana is a manuscript whose age and obvious provenance would (one expects) require it not be treated casually, as if it were a child’s text book with scribbled notes fitted wherever.. So is this a new custom or an established one? Found only in Greek manuscripts, or only in plant-books, or is the form indicative of a carrying over from such things as biblical commentaries and their annotation? The reason for asking such questions is to establish the significance of your observation in the wider context, and I absolutely accept what you say about the Anicia Juliana’s fitting notes around the image as being fifteenth century. But other and earlier Byzantine-influenced works display the custom of image-first and text fitted about it. As I recall I cited the Liebana Beatus as example, and in that case the moulded text is not additional scholia.
You’ve opened a very interesting line of investigation, and one that promises to provide genuinely new insights into the text. Please don’t be discouraged from pursuing that enquiry as long as you please. (Naturally, I’m adding corrections to my posts about the Anicia Juliana, and directing my readers to this post, which I consider a model for the way such research should go: from research and verifiable evidence, accurately acknowledged, to the summary and your opinion.
Koen – thank you very much. I find it all the more interesting that now in considering the origin for the Vms’ layout, the Anicia Juliana must be discounted. Obviously if it was sitting in a monastery, being inscribed by a Greek monk, it cannot have been in northern Italy being inscribed by someone acquainted with the Anicia Juliana as it had been.
Very valuable information – many thanks. PS Do we know much about said ‘Greek monk’?
If it doesn’t seem too much like argumentation, I’d like to add some comments as balance for those made by Rene – simply as the other side of the coin, and not to deny that side of it any validity.
Rne says, first,
“The idea of looking at the layout is very interesting.”
*This is certainly true, and is why anyone with any background in codicology considers the relative weight given written and pictorial text an important clue (if not the only clue) to provenance.
Rene then says,
“I think that, in particular, it would be of interest to see if there is any systematic difference in preferred layout between the two hands used in the herbal illustrations.”
* I should be very interested to read any results which Rene might care to share if he decides to do this work for himself (and of course for everyone else’s benefit). Congratulations on an excellent avenue for some original Voynich research.
R: “On the other hand, the comparison with other manuscripts is perhaps a bit ambitious, for two reasons.
The first is that only a fraction of all illustrated herbal manuscripts have been digitised and you [i.e. all of us/Rene] will not even have seen all of these. If you [i.e. we/Rene] managed to see 10% of all existing illustrated herbals, it would be quite an achievement. However, this is not really a representative sample.,”
* It seems as if Rene is talking himself out of doing the work needed by supposing it a hopeless task, but the task isn’t one of seeing every herbal ever made, because the very idea that the Vms is a ‘herbal’ is legendary and assumptive. But that doesn’t actually matter too much because the issue isn’t about “Herbals” – its about scribal traditions and in particular the question of which scribal traditions – where and when – show a similarly relaxed attitude to the primacy of written text, to ruling out, and to fitting text close about an image: either to fit text into a limited space or (as in the Vms where this isn’t an issue), for some other reason – possibly tradition.
To learn more about that, Rene doesn’t need to see every herbal manuscript that exists; only to study the customs and changes in practice of those who inscribed pages on which pictures were drawn first. Not really such a problem.
Then Rene adds
“The second is that it is not clear that the described feature is in any way distinctive of anything.”
* I think, myself, that Koen made it fairly clear why those studying the codicology and layout of medieval manuscripts consider attitudes to the page important, but it is surely honest of Rene to admit in public that he has difficulty being clear about why page-layout and ‘text-vs-image’ attitudes are indicative of where and when a manuscript was made. Just btw, we find similarly relaxed attitudes in Iberian mss much earlier.
” It is quite normal for writing to start at the top of a page. Given that the selection involves a number of binary choices:
– single large plants or not
– writing or not
– writing in single or double columns
– writing before or after drawing picture
when starting with several dozen manuscripts one automatically ends up with a small group…”
* This is where it is important to do a fair bit of historical study, and codicological and related manuscript-studies even when not directly related to Beinecke MS 408.
*The idea of ‘choices’ and its implied focus on the maker as central to the history of any manuscript or its text is certainly understandable in a twentieth-century culture, but becomes far less sure when you are dealing with a manuscript produced – or some of which was produced – between 1405-1438. At that time, the ‘important’ people were the person who commissioned a work (and what they expected to receive for their money), and the matter to be included in the work. Since the person commissioning the ms normally decided the matter to be included, and could freely reject, or demand re-done, any ms which did not please him or her (one reason it is highly unlikely Rudolf would have paid for Beinecke MS 408), so the idea of a computistical ‘binary choice’ flow chart is highly anachronistic. The range and type of influences are more complex, and their interaction far closer to a chaotic than a binary model.
On the bright side, if Rene decides to follow that line of enquiry for his own research, there are a great many detailed and scientific studies available which speak about the importance of page arrangements and layout (layout, by the way, usually refers to ruling out).
A useful quotation
“We have a precise note about this from a famous manuscript,the richly illustrated Vienna Dioscorides, Vindob. med . 1, datable to the VI century (after 512), which was restored and rebound by John Chortasmenos in 1406.
From the note written by Chortasmenos on the manuscript, we learn that the monk Nathanael, of the Prodromos Petra monastery, who directed the Xenon of the Kral had ordered the restoration of the codex and paid for it, which means that it belonged to the monastery.
From this manuscript derived two others, which can consequently be tentatively attributed to the Prodromos Petra monastery as well, NewYork, Pierpont Morgan M. 652, and Padova, Bibl.delSeminario MS 194.
NOTE: The ‘Xenon of the Kral’ was a hospital for foreigners and travellers, first established to serve Russian and Bulgarian travellers taken ill in Constantinople.
So Nathanael (not ‘Nathaniel) had the authority to order the manuscript rebound; the person considered worthy to undertake such a task.. for whatever reason… was notable member of the literati, and a bishop (Metropolitan), who in order to obtain that office had to have reached ‘at least the first rank of monastic tonsure’… But he was bishop, not a member of any enclosed order as ‘monk’ would suggest in the Latin world. It appears that Chorasmenos was just the book-binder. and perhaps the guarantor of religious orthodoxy:)
Thanks, Diane. So it seems that I understood the quote correctly. Chortasmenos rebound the manuscript, but Nathanael – a monk at the monastery – caused the text layout to become so Voynich-like. Hmm, the “Xenon of the Kral”, that’s pretty cool, right? Might be relevant. Also it would make for a great villain’s name 😉
The Padua Dioscorides was also made at the same monastery during Nathanael’s lifetime. From what Collins writes, I gather that there is debate about when precisely and by whom it was made. Mioni attributed it to a monk called Neophytos, but this is contested and Collins also thinks a date closer to the end of the 14th century is more likely. I hope I find some time fro reading later today!
Koen, I am unable to accept much of what Collins says in ‘.. the Illustrative tradition’, but perhaps there are other and more recent works that may provide more detail and serve as balance, including more recent studies by Collins herself.
I decided to finish the draft I had lying around and indeed, it looks like a number of sources I quoted in this post were rather misled or ambiguous. Still, I wouldn’t have gotten this far without Collins’ book – it’s a handy tool for finding one’s bearings, a starting point, which is why Marco recommended it to me.
Anyway, I made some clarifications in the new post I just finished. That’s the clearest picture I can provide for now.
Thanks for that.
Koen – I’d also mention that Minta Collins book was the ONLY secondary source that I ever saw mentioned until relatively recently. Rene has been recommending it non-stop pretty much since Collins’ publication came out… way back when. For all I know Rene might even be the person who first pointed Marco in that direction. 🙂
Neophytos is a fascinating figure. You’ll enjoy reading about him. His life and work is exactly the sort of thing which – because it is what people have expected the Vms to be – tends to send pulses racing. Perhaps with reason. I’m actually still seeking evidence for Natanael’s having been a monk. The usual practice was that the hospitals were attached to, and served by a monastery, but that the chief physicians and many of the apprentices in training were outsiders – and not rarely Jews, to judge by the general fact of medical practice in Islam and in Christendom by the twelfth-to-fourteenth centuries. It is also interesting that botanical works OTHER than catalogues of materia medica were being made in fourteenth century Constantinople. But I ‘ve said too much – this is your baby. 🙂
PS . re “Xenon of the Kral” – my thoughts exactly. 😀
The very respectable Wellcome library is frequently referring to Minta Collins’ “Medieval herbals: the illustrative traditions”. Just one arbitrary example from their blog:
Recommending this book seems fully justified (unless one is already an established authority in this field, in which case it is possible to find fault with numerous details).
It’s a handy reference work, especially because many papers on herbal manuscripts are in other languages. But in any case it’s always best to directly consult the sources that are quoted, since they might contain additional information that you’re after.
For an amateur like myself, it is of course good to know that Touwaide saw some problems with Collins’ book, and that some caution is advised. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a useful starting point. I wouldn’t have found out what I did without Collins’ book, but on the other hand I wouldn’t have been able to write these posts if it had remained my main source. So well, I’m glad it’s part of my toolbox and I’d recommend it for just that. Nuance is everything 🙂
you are right that nuance is – if not everything – very important.
People who are interested in the herbal illustrations in the Voynich MS, and read D’Imperio, Tiltman and Brumbaugh, may be significantly misled about the extraordinarily unusual appearance of the herbal illustrations in the Voynich MS that they proclaim. It is highly exaggerated. Already, “Blunt and Rafael (1979)” provides a good basis for a better understanding of illustrated herbal manuscripts, and it even includes the Voynich MS.
I learned a lot from it.
Still, in comparison, Collins’ book is a treasure trove, because it discusses a shorter and more relevant time frame in many more pages, and discusses many more manuscripts.
Several critical reviews of this book may be found in the net, and this is where nuance comes in again. Alain Touwaide’s criticism is among the harshest. Having spoken with him about this book, I know it very well.
At the same time, a statements like: ” I am unable to accept much of what Collins says in ‘.. the Illustrative tradition’,” is devoid of any form of nuance. Same with: “Rene has been recommending it non-stop pretty much since Collins’ publication came out… way back when”.
Yes, I would certainly agree that those statements lack nuance 🙂
Speaking of Touwaide by the way, are you still in touch with him? He seems to be exceptionally well informed about the Padua MS – his institution hosts images from it, and he has written about it several times as I quote in my most recent post. Since he has also expressed interest in the VM in the past, it would be interesting to know his opinion about the unusual layout correspondence.
honestly, I don’t want to ask him a question which I consider myself to be based on speculation which is not borne out by any evidence. As I already tried to indicate, I see no grounds that text layout issues (1 vs. 2 columns, text before or after pictures) are at all geographically or temporally constrained.
As far as I have seen, all possible combinations are used over centuries and all over Europe.
Note that I find the discussion about these manuscripts of great interest.
I’m not claiming that there are geographic constraints on any of the features in isolation. What does seem relevant to me, however, is that very few manuscripts combine the features of the VM large-plant layout like the Padua Dioscorides does. If you know of any other examples I would be happy to study them.
Moreover, the Prodromos Petra monastery might not be the most important aspect here. The most interesting matter for me is why and how these manuscripts came to look the way they did. And it seems like in both cases it is a combination of existing images with a transcribed text. This might be relevant because the VM is very image heavy and even its “marginal” images have primacy over the text… and its text might certainly be some kind of transcription.
Koen, ( if this is a duplicate posting, please delete. )
A couple of questions –
first, as you say:
“Mioni … in 1959 … concluded that [the Padua MS] must have been copied from the JAC some time before Chortasmenos’ rebound the 6th century tome: the Padua MS includes some images which WERE NO LONGER PRESENT (sic) in the 1406 restoration.
What evidence is there that those images were ever in the Juliana Anicia Codex; that is, why isn’t the logical inference that Neophytos added a few more plants when making his copy and adding his notes?
Secondly – a small point, but there’s a difference between copying and transcribing. One copies the text of an original, but text can be transcribed from any source including but not limited to the original source-work.
Some readers might take a mistaken impression that all the text now in the Anicia Juliana is a transcription from the Padua MS. I know this isn’t what you meant, but it’s important to keep a clear distinction between what is still part of the original volume; what is a copying (e.g. to replace a worn or damaged folio); Chortasmenos’ transcription of Neophytos’ scholia, and anything which Chortasmenos added, all by himself, when he was given the job of binding and restoration.
It would be interesting to know more about what was done in preparation for the transporting to Rome of that great camel or horse-train of books which were sent in advance of the Turkish siege.
If we suppose the usual practice – seen from Avignon in the late fourteenth century to seventeenth-century Prague, then it seems likely to me that the Neophytos-Chortasmenos activity was part of a bringing-together of practical and theoretical knowledge: that is, not just the material in the text of the Anicia Juliana Codex, but the inherited knowledge over generations of those who had served in the various hospices of Constantinople.
I’m not sure that can be ever more than theoretical, but (as you know) I believe the Vms a copy made in fifteenth century from material then in Padua, and have explained that the ‘castle’ seen in one detail of the Voynich map represents Constantinople and/or Pera. Your work appears to offer that opinion some support, and thanks for the thanks, too.
Neophytos and Chortasmenos were all about preservation, as is evidenced by Chortasmenos’ note in the JAC. And indeed, various other versions and copies of Dioscorides’ text were made at the monastery before. But I left those out of the discussion here because the ones I’ve seen don’t display the same layout features.
My paraphrase of Mioni was based on p.5 of this pdf: http://www.bibliotecaseminariopda.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Mioni_Dioscoride_Cod_194.pdf , roughly translated as:
“But since P conserves, as we determine better later, 31 miniatures that in 1406 were already irretrievably lost in C, we must deduce that the patavino copy is earlier than the year of restoration.”
Even though I’m relatively fluent in Spanish and have studied French and Latin, Italian still remains very difficult to read. Marco, if you happen to read this… 🙂
Anyway, it’s possible that the physical exemplar for the VM was prepared in Petra. Touwaide also stressed that those writing at the Prodromos monastery were more than just translators, he calls it “a center for reorganisation of previously translated works, so as to create a unified body out of pieces of different origins.”
So you know, they had means, motive and opportunity.
In an earlier comment Rene Zandbergen says:
(quote) I see no grounds that text layout issues (1 vs. 2 columns, text before or after pictures) are at all geographically or temporally constrained.
As far as I have seen, all possible combinations are used over centuries and all over Europe.
This sounds very much as if Rene has spent quite some time on this matter – first investigating and then researching this matter of comparative codicology, and its relevance to provenancing. Obviously, his conclusion – presumably drawn from his own studies – are of great interest and I wonder if you could put here, with your own research, some references to the papers which Rene wrote, and which plainly led him to differ from the opinions gained from the very detailed study that you’ve done, yourself.
Koen, with respect to your request for other examples….
My point is that it is not clear that any of the similarities are actually relevant for provenance, so what would the purpose in looking for other similar cases?
(And of course I have the same limitation that I have not seen over 80% of all illustrated herbals.)
Rene, just to be clear, I do not believe the VM itself was made in Constantinople – though I guess we can’t exclude the possibility? I’m quite agnostic as to where it was made.
I just believe that the more completely something resembles something else, the more weight this resemblance is likely to carry. But I understand one may prefer to look at separate features, and this can be a valuable study indeed.
And yes, every complex correspondence may be based on coincidence or parallel evolution, so conclusions remain speculative. For example, crossbomen appear in manuscripts centuries before the 15th, and Sagittarii in roundels as well. So given enough time, crossbowman Sagittarii are bound to appear in various apparently unrelated instances: in this case the VM and a German tradition.
The manuscript discussed here (Iatrosophion – C0879 Princeton Greek MS. 131) is later than the VMS, but it would be interesting to see more of it.
Ha, well found! Indeed it would be nice to see more of it, since it is composed of several parts. The catalog entry lists “in progress”, so maybe they are digitising it?
One thing these plant MSS appear to have in common is the immediate and clear practical intention. This was different for the JAC in its original state (royal gift) but it were Chortasmenos’ pragmatic transcriptions in the context of the Xenon hospital which made it look so much like the VM.
All the more remarkable. Perhaps I should mail the Princeton library to ask if they have any plans or information on digitization.