Aries by a Nose

The Greener Pasture

There are two zodiac “rings” or “wheels” devoted to Aries in the Voynich Manuscript. One has the ram painted a mossy green next to a very dark green bush, with the surrounding human characters mostly unpainted, the other has an unpainted ram by a roughly painted bush, surrounded by mostly painted figures.

There is much that can be said about both these folios, but I want to zero in on one small but potentially important detail.

Overall Style

First let’s look at the two rams. They may seem superficially different because of the paint and the extra hairs on the green Aries, but they are essentially the same—both of them with their noses in or in front of a bush, both standing on bumpy ground, both walking with the right leg forward and the right leg behind, both with relatively short tails, and both with curved horns with dots that may indicate texture.

We don’t know whether the original illustrator added the paint or if painting was done by someone else (or by more than one someone else), so let’s ignore the paint for now and look closely at the way the images are sketched. Notice anything unusual?

GreenWhiteAriesIt’s hard to tell from such a small image, so I’ve zoomed in on the heads below so you can see them more clearly. Don’t worry about the fact that the ears are missing on the ram on the left, look at the other features:

GreenWhiteAries2Can you see it?

The nose was drawn by someone else—someone more deft and skilled at drawing. It’s not only stylistically different, it’s anatomically different. Whoever drew the nose on the green Aries had a better sense of structure. Note how ill-defined the lines are in the Aries on the right in comparison.

Notice also the difference in the eye, but it’s the nose that’s really important. It’s also possible that the forehead and the outline of the bush were drawn by someone else but it’s harder to tell. The nose of the ram is not ambiguous, however. That’s a different hand and eye—a different artist. I’ve emphasized the strokes to make them easier to see in the following picture.

GreenAriesNoseNote that quick-and-dirty colorizing of the above image to emphasize the nose has distorted the lines, they’re not as smooth as the original. The confidence and smoothness of the lines is one of the things that distinguishes the green Aries from the unpainted Aries, but you can look back at the previous picture above after looking at this one to see the parts that are distinctly different.

So what does this mean?

Was the green Aries left unfinished and someone added the nose? That seems unlikely since the other body parts are there but… the text around the inner circle is missing, as well (assuming it was intended to include text as in the other zodiacs), so perhaps it’s possible that the nose was left undrawn. Was the nose drawn first and the rest added later? That also seems unlikely although I suppose it’s not impossible, either

Were two people working on this project, one more skilled at drawing and visualizing structure than the other? Were the fuzzy hairs on the green Aries added by the person who drew the nose? They seem a bit more natural than the scalloped hairs on the Aries on the right.

Assuming the text on these illustrations was added after the drawings, did the person who added the nose know what kind of text would be added?

So many questions, but this folio does add weight to the argument that more than one person was involved in creating the VMS, and it makes you wonder if the illustrator had a mentor or elder who gave occasional assistance or advice.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2016 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

7 thoughts on “Aries by a Nose

  1. Koen Gheuens

    To me it is clear that at least one person working on the manuscript knew how to draw more accurately than one would say at first sight. This nose is another great example, which I hadn’t noticed yet. The eye is also positioned more naturally, especially if you ignore the horrendously placed horns.

    Another possible explanation is that these drawings were meant to be exact copies from existing source material. Someone may have started on the nose, cleaning it up a bit, only to then be scolded for not staying true to the example.

  2. D.N. O'Donovan

    They are not sheep. They’re goats – sheep don’t browse. And it’s not a matter of the draughtsman being ignorant of the difference; the imagery was not designed to represent two sheep, and probably not even to represent Aries. Only the inscription of month-names allows such an equation, but there is reason to feel some niggle of doubt about what the series had been meant for *before* the inscription of those month-names. Same for the “two bulls” of which one is built like an antelope, and not a terribly common sort of antelope even then. Tall, perfectly lyre-shaped horns and a sway-back with a ‘dish-face’ and a deep red hide.. not terribly common at all, and no bull.

    1. J.K. Petersen Post author

      For the record, since you asked, I’m fine with you linking to posts on your blog. I’m happy when readers are exposed to different points of view.

  3. J.K. Petersen Post author

    Diane noted: “They are not sheep. They’re goats – sheep don’t browse…”

    We don’t actually know whether they are browsing (their mouths are not open). They might be positioned in front of the bush. Even if they are browsing, sheep are known to eat brushy and viney plants like privet, kudzu, and laburnum (probably not in large amounts since privet and laburnum have poisonous parts but they do eat them).

    The illustrator is not skilled at drawing animals. The front leg is way out of proportion, the nose is very indistinct on the one where the second illustrator didn’t assist, the hooves are rounded like paws, the back leg joints are completely wrong, and on one the ears are missing. It’s hard to use anatomically vague drawings to decide for certain whether it is a ram or a goat. They are in the correct position to be Aries considering the other zodiac symbols are clearly recognizable and in the traditional sequence.

    I respect your difference in viewpoint. For the present, my viewpoint is that the illustrator intended a zodiac sequence for the central figures even if the surrounding imagery turns out to be unrelated to zodiacs.

    I would accept the argument that the illustrator might be from somewhere else where the shapes of animals are different, and drew according to familiarity, I’ve always considered this a possibility, but even if that were so, it doesn’t mean Aries and Taurus were not intended.

  4. Stephen

    A reply to what I am about to say would be nice. This is my opinion about what I’ve read about your description. What led me to this link after reading up on the zodiac section of the manuscript, was the date it was published, my birthday. Like I said before this is my opinion. I’m an aries. My sister’s husband is an aries. We’re only a few years apart. He’s the out going type, friends with many, and has a phd. I’m the loner type, not many friends, smart but, not much college background. Okay, so now here’s where I believe it gets weird. I have a full head of hair, my sister’s husband is bald. I smoke marijuana quite often so, my first thought was the plant must be marijuana lol. My sister’s husband has never smoked marijuana in his life, frowns upon it kinda. From my perspective the green ram is almost a representation of myself and the unpainted “white” ram my sister’s husband. Why? I have no clue, could be another stoner moment. Or weird coincidence…either way I would like to hear what you think about even if it’s harsh lol thanks

    1. J.K. Petersen Post author

      LOL! I don’t think there’s any need for me to comment. Your post stands on its own. 😀


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