What is a sheep doing in a pond?

Voynich researcher René Zandbergen posted a picture of the emblem for the Knights of the Golden Fleece, an organization that was apparently founded in 1430 and, in the same thread, Koen Gheuens pointed out the similarity between the pangolin-like critter and the critter in the upper right corner of the pond that I mentioned in a previous blog.

HangingSheepEmblemI had never seen the dead-looking sheep emblem before today (it’s apparently a fleece, not a dead sheep), but I have heard of the knights of the Golden Fleece and I am familiar with the mythical story of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

The reference on the forum to the golden fleece immediately brought to mind this famous depiction of Jason on a piece of beautifully crafted ancient pottery (Vatican Museum, ca. 5th century BCE):

JasonRegurgitatedThe serpent or dragon is guarding the Golden Fleece which is hung in the sacred tree, and Jason is emerging from its mouth with some help from Medea who worked a spell on the dragon.

GoldenFleecePendantIn later depictions in the middle ages, a pendant with the hanging fleece can be seen around the necks of some of the early members to the order. The painting on the right, which I discovered after learning about the founding of the Order, includes the pendant worn by Baudouin de Lannoy, who was inducted in 1430.

But getting back to the more ancient depictions… does that image of Jason half-swallowed seem familiar to those of you who have looked at the pond images in the VMS?

I’ll post the picture of the pond again, which I’ve mentioned both in the post about melusines and with reference to the images in the left margin of folio 79v. Below left, a figure is standing in a fish (or perhaps a serpent?) and, on the far right, a somewhat sheep-like critter (it has always looked somewhat sheeply to me) lies in a strange posture reminiscent of the symbol of the golden fleece:

VMSPondFleecePaintingA coincidence? Probably, especially considering it’s unwise to jump to conclusions about the meaning of the pond images without assessing the drawings along the left side (described in a previous blog). Plus, there’s no sign of the other personalities in the story of Jason and the Argonauts, or of a sacred tree… or  is there?

I recently digitally removed some of the paint from the pond and found a strange branch-like appendage apparently coming out of the sheepy creature’s behind. It’s positioned like a tail, but is it a tail? Is it actually attached to the critter or coming from behind it?

VMSSheepCould it represent part of a tree? It looks more like roots than branches, but I suppose it might be branches. As mentioned previously, flower- and tree-like tails were popular embellishments in medieval manuscripts so it may be an idea for a tail that was abandoned or painted over by someone else. And what is that faded line that stretches up from the critter’s back? A smudge? a mistake? an idea that was shelved and partly erased?

I don’t know if the sheep-like image is in fact a sheep, maybe the red color indicates a fox… and I’m not sure it’s related to the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece but, from a purely visual point of view, it’s an interesting parallel that might be worth keeping in mind.

J.K. Petersen

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



3 thoughts on “Fleeced?

  1. Koen Gheuens

    Very interesting post – I’ma check here more often 🙂
    I do recommend you to copy-paste my last name, it’s a lot easier than spelling it. Don’t worry, it’s an absurd cluster of letters even Dutch speakers don’t get right 🙂

    I appreciate how you don’t jump to conclusions, even though the visually matching elements are striking. In support of the “ancient” Golden Fleece hypothesis, I’d say that, if you consider the lowest “branch” of the tail to be the actual tail, and the upper part to be the tree, the tail actually matches that of the pottery fleece quite well. I’d also say that the pattern on the creature’s back might suggest wool. Finally, the feet just *might* represent hooves, but that’s more doubtful already.

    My biggest problem with this (or the “pangolin” for that matter) representing a fleece is that the typical ram’s horns are missing. This seems like an absolute requirement for anything to be seen as the Golden Fleece.

    However — when I first studied the pond creatures, before any mention of sheep, I did notice something strange was going on on Red’s face. As if someone tried to add a big rinoceros horn to his forehead, but then decided not to draw it. See what I mean? The Aries examples show that at least one person working on the artwork was really bad at placing horns, so.. perhaps.

    Knowing the way Voynich drawings work though, maybe even drawing a creature in typical Golden Fleece position was enough to ring some bells, especially when placed near a person emerging from a scaly mouth. Stuff to keep in mind.

    1. J.K. Petersen Post author

      My apologies for the error in your name, Koen. I have corrected it. My spelling is quite good (I usually see the errors when I look back on them later) but my fingers are not as well behaved as I would like them to be.

      Thank you for your interesting comments.

  2. D.N. O'Donovan

    None of the animals shown on f.79v or 80v has cloven hoofs or curled horns. The emblem for the Order of the Golden Fleece adopted a very old Guild-emblem of the wool-traders and it showed the right sort of feet, and the right sort of merino-like ram’s horns.

    That the draughtsmen who made the Vms knew what a sheep’s head and feet looked like is plain from f.116v, which does show a sheep. Not a merino, and not a European breed, but a fat-tailed sheep, which was known no further north than Spain.

    The relevant figures in f.79v and 80v do not have horns of sheep-y type, and they are shown with the same sort of feet given the cold-blooded little dragon on f.25v.

    That little dragon has no horns – neither does the multi-tailed creature on f.79v.

    If we are trying to discover what the draughtsman actually drew, perhaps its best to keep focus on what is present on the page. An awful lot of time is spent trying to use the manuscript to support a theory, when the theory should be disposable as soon as the primary evidence denies it – imo


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *