This section attempts to present an analysis of the illustrations found in the Voynich MS. Such an analysis should be made by competent specialists, such as historians of botany or astronomy, of paleography, or of medieval history in general. There is still a lack of such expert reports and the interpretation of the illustrations inevitably allows for a lot of well-meant speculation. I will try my best to distinguish expert and non-expert views clearly.
The first part of this page follows the various 'sections' of the MS as explained in the description of the manuscript:
After that, some specific details of the illustrations will be addressed (1).
Herbal pages typically contain one, sometimes two, page-filling plant illustrations with some short paragraphs of text written to carefully avoid the drawings. This composition is very similar to a number of herbal manuscripts produced between late antiquity and the early Renaissance. Apart from this similarity, there is also a striking difference. While the herbal traditions were primarily copying illustrations from one manuscript to another, the Voynich MS has truly unique and original drawings.
As the herbal section of the Voynich MS covers about half the mansucript, this whole topic deserves a thorough discussion, and a dedicated page will be written to address it. Until that time, a more summary discussion is presented here (2).
The oldest surviving illustrated herbal manuscript is the Juliana Anicia Codex, which includes the herbal of Dioscurides. It was written in the 6th Century and its quality has been unsurpassed for many centuries. It was brought to Europe after the Voynich MS was most probably written, so it is relatively unlikely that the Voynich author has seen it. This MS also has single page filling plant drawings. Later versions of the Dioscorides herbals tended to have two or more plants per page, and a apge layout different from the Voynich MS, and they all tended to be copies from each other.
A second herbal tradition is known as pseudo-Apuleius, and it has generally less elaborate plant drawings than the Dioscorides tradition. Again, illustrations were copies from manuscript to manuscript through the ages. By the time of the Voynich MS, they had become quite abstract, and it was not usually possible to recognise any plant just from the illustration.
During the transition from the 13th to the 14th century a new herbal tradition arose around the medical school of Salerno in S. Italy. It has become known as the Tractatus de Herbis. It featured new, original plant drawings, based clearly on observations from nature. Again, this tradition was propagated by the copying of manuscripts, and two branches arose: the north Italian branch known still as the Tractatus de Herbis, and the French branch better known as the Livre des simples Médicines.
It was during this time that the Voynich MS was probably composed, but it has been observed by all specialists that the Voynich MS illsutrations do not look like any of the three above traditions. The plants cannot be recognised, and look mostly fantastic.
In the 1990's Serio Toresella (3) inspected the Voynich MS and observed similarities to the herbal tradition known as 'alchemical herbals', a shorter-lived tradition mainly from Northern Italy, between the end of the 14th and the first hald of the 16th century. The plant illustrations are equally fantastical (though they derive to some extrent from existing plants) (4). A good summary of the main reference is given by Philip Neal (5).
Most of the alchemical herbals are combined with copies of the Tractatus de Herbis in one manuscript. They have a very similar page layout as the Voynich MS, with usually one, sometimes two plants per page, and short paragraphs of text, referred to as recipes (6). They originate from Northern Italy, and a time frame overlapping with the probable origin of the Voynich MS. There are a few alchemical herbals which have been painted with almost the same lack of detail as the Voynich MS (7).
The 'fantastic' nature of the Voynich MS drawings is extemely unusual. Upon closer analysis, however, it appears to me that the majority of plants are like composites of familiar elements which, however, do not fit together.
Astronomical pages feature drawings of Sun and/or moon, and arrangements of stars. It is sometimes hard to draw a clear line between astronomical and cosmological pages (see below). The twelve astronomical pages which have illustrations of the zodiac are called astrological.
The astrological pages contain concentric circles with about 30 nymphs holding stars, and an emblem of a zodiac sign in the center. The nymphs are similar to those drawn in the biological section (see below). There is a probably relevant precedent for such nymphs in a Byzantine astronomical MS in the Vatican Library.
Mention the Pleiades
Mention the Andromeda Nebula and how it cannot be represented
About Bradley Schaefer's article...
Present my magnitude / Regulus theory
Cosmological pages feature geometric designs which cannot be
easily classified. The use of the term 'cosmological' for these
pages was first introduced by Newbold.
Many cosmological illustrations are of circular design, and there is one composite of nine connecting circles with four smaller items on the corners.
An extensive discussion of the Rosettes page belongs here
Perhaps the most enigmatic section of the Voynich MS is the biological
section which contains drawings of human figures (mostly unclothed
and female) in arrangements of pipes or vessels, what seem like
baths or clouds. Many illustrations leave the impression of
representing a chemical (alchemical) or natural process.
See also the above-mentioned Byzantine astronomical MS in the Vatican Library for a precendent of such feminine figures.
Mention the Balnei Puteolani.
Mention the various resemblances between on the biollogical page with the apparent intestines and the text on one of the pages of the Balnei (baths of St.Peter).
Mention the falloppian tubes and D'Imperio's exasperation
Mention the central bifolium being out of place.
Collections of jars and parts of plants, such as individual leaves and roots.
Mention Brumbaugh's pepper here.
Some pages contain only text, with stars drawn in the margin. The stars may be colored dark of light, and may have a tail. This section of the Ms is at the end, and is also referred to as the 'recipes' section, in analogy to some alchemical MS's.
Say something about f58, about any correlation with the zodiac pages, and about the double star case.
Some pages contain no illustration at all, but only text.
Say something about their distribution and possible role.
The following pages are missing from the MS: fol. 12 (excised, stub still visible), fols. 59-64 (dropped out of quire centre, but were still present at the time of Newbold), fol. 74 (excised, stub still visible), Quire 16 (fols. 91 and 92), Quire 18 (fols. 97 and 98), fols. 109-110 (dropped out of quire centre?).
When / where were they lost? It seems as if one of each type is missing.
Some pages contain a circle subdivided into two halves, with one half further split into two quarters. This design is very similar to a medieval stylized world map referred to as a T-O map. The three sections of the T-O map refer to the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. These maps may be seen on the following pages:
The Voynich MS contains very few recognisable Christian symbols (indeed, there are few recognisable symbols from any known religion). However, in fol. 79v, the woman in the top left of the picture holds a crucifix and is illuminated by radiance coming down from above
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it has to be assumed that, if the Voynich MS contains meaningful text, this text is related with the illustrations. Some examples of how this may help in the decipherment of the MS are given below.