I came across something which I consider of high importance for learning where the Voynich Manuscript was made.
Back in 2016 I noticed that the VM Gemini had their arms crossed, almost like they were trying to do a double handshake. In standard Gemini imagery a man and woman can be seen in an embrace, but never quite of this kind. At this point, the only approximation I had found was in depictions of Roman marriage. The pair would hold each others’ right hand, and with his left the man would give an item to the woman. The images don’t quite capture the double handshake, but the seed is there. Various examples remain, and they all follow the same principles.
Examples in astronomy
At the time I started thinking about the meaning of the crossed arms, the most fertile discussion about Gemini imagery was taking place on Stephen Bax’ site, in an article (October 2015) by Darren Worley and Marco Ponzi. Darren had found the most convincing parallel thus far in a mid-15th century southern German manuscript, Pal. Lat. 1369.
Now in hindsight it is clear to me that this image is also descendant of wedding imagery. Look at the woman’s hand: it’s attached to her right arm, but it looks more like a floating left hand. It also looks like the copyist had no proper example for her other hand. This makes perfect sense now: originally this was a “double handshake” wedding ceremony image, which got awkwardly adapted (or misunderstood) into a pair holding hands at shoulder level.
The first example of proper crossed arms I found was in Reg. Lat. 1324, in a planisphere. Since planisphere images are by tradition mirrored, I present the comparison in mirrored form:
I have little doubt that the planisphere figures were taken from an example where they were dressed. The man’s front foot is shaped like a typical medieval pointed shoe. The placement of the handshake arms is excellent, but a mistake was made in the ring arms. The man touches the woman’s elbow and the she touches his nipple. This implies that the double handshake pose was misunderstood. Still, this 15th century French or Italian manuscript remains one of the most relevant sources since it shows the “wedding” pair in a constellation context. I wonder what their clothes looked like before they took them off.
The turning point
That was all in 2016. It was only a few days ago that I found an image which shifted my view on the matter. It is from a 1482 German printed book. Since the image is a woodcut, I will mirror it for proper comparison.
The hand are precisely like they are in the VM Gemini. However, this image has nothing to do with astronomy, astrology or calendars. It is from a book about courtly love, an extremely popular theme in 15th century manuscripts.
Something similar to the Roman wedding ceremony was still customary in medieval times, and images are plenty. In what follows, I will simplify a bit: I will talk about weddings, even though a similar ceremony was used for betrothals – the difference is irrelevant for us since it looks the same. And I’ll call the instances where all four hands touch a “double handshake” even though it technically isn’t – as I will now explain.
The type of medieval marriage we’re interested in is as follows: the man and woman hold one hand (in cross, so left to left or right to right) and with his free hand, the man puts a ring on a finger of the woman’s free hand. This results in the “double handshake” look. The “passive” set of hands is usually pictured below, while the putting on of the ring is above. Many images focus on the handshake, this example from 1380 France:
And others only show the ring:
As an example of how existing compositions and individual figures were recycled over and over again, here are some examples from various manuscripts from the workshop of Diebold Lauber, which will turn out to be crucial for us. It was one of the most famous places of 15th century German manuscript production, active from ca. 1425 to 1470. However, stylistically its images are said to follow 14th century examples. The following examples are from three different manuscripts; note how the same stock images are used, altered just enough to suit the context. There are many more examples than what I can show here.
In other words, these are the tricks of mass production. In an example from yet another manuscript, things take a turn for the absurd. We see Percival in the “wedding pose” with a noblewoman whom he just humiliated by defeating (not killing) her husband in combat. They don’t like each other at all and there is no intention of marriage. Yet the illustrator still used the wedding template (because hey, it’s a man and a woman right?) and conveyed the grief of the scene only in their facial expression.
I have included the Voynich version of the template because again I want you to get a feeling for what’s going on here. It’s the same image, just adapted for a different purpose. In Parcifal, you can even see how the woman presents her finger for a ring, and the man still has his hand as if holding an invisible object. Obviously there is no ring, because they are not getting married. But the image is the same, turbans included. The man active, woman passive. Crossed arms.
Okay, now go back to the previous image, the one with four fragments. One of these is of immense importance for our purpose, especially if you look at the man.
I’ll give you a moment.
It’s an illustration of Rudolf von Ems’ work Wilhelm von Orlens from the MS Den Haag, KB, 76 E 1 (Werkstatt Diebold Lauber, 1448-1450) In this picture we see the Wilhelm from the title together with princess Amelie. According to the Wiki, they were among the most famous lovers of the Middle Ages, but I must admit I did not know them. Anyway, the illustrator uses a very clear form of the “wedding” template, although the arms are uncrossed.
Now, mentally remove the red carpet the man is using as a coat. Let’s look at the individual details.
Green turban, ugly haircut, long neck, laced boots. It’s the same guy
There is an earlier Wilhelm von Orlens manuscript made in 1420 in the “Werkstatt von 1418“, a name for a group of related manuscripts seen as the predecessors of Lauber’s work. However, it is different in style and there is no clear “wedding pose” image. But there is this this image of the protagonist holding hands with a robed man:
All in all, Diebold Lauber’s version appears much closer to that in the VM.
What to do next?
There’s a clear path of investigation to follow now, and I hope the power of the Voynich community might shine here. Lauber is a bit late, but he does seem to have had access to sources extremely close to those of the VM Gemini. The next step, in my opinion, would be the following: there are many manuscript families which feature these stock images, some of which were quite popular. We should make an overview of these and see if we can trace any transmission of the forms. Since the VM features a wealthy couple, the best candidates are manuscripts about courtly love, proper behavior of nobility and so forth.
EDIT 4 September 2018: while studying the evolution in their clothing, I noticed a parallel with Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, which shows a change in fashion. Note how Van Eyck and Lauber share fur coat, V-neck, fur on the hem of the woman’s dress.
Taking all this into account, it looks like Lauber’s image was taken from a source more like the VM than the 1420 example. However, by 1448 the preference for rich clothing had changed, possibly influenced by artists like Van Eyck or, more likely, a change in clothing preferences. What would Panofsky say?
 See http://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/de/bpd/glanzlichter/oberdeutsche/lauber.html for info about the workshop (in German).
Discussion on Stephen Bax’ site: https://stephenbax.net/?p=1682#comment-164961
See https://www.voynich.ninja/thread-591-post-22074.html#pid22074 for the discussion on the Voynich ninja forum.