Category Archives: The Voynich Provenance

Does Size Matter?

Dimensional Comparison

René Zandbergen posted an interesting diagram a year ago on the Voynichninja forum that illustrates the Voynich Manuscript dimensions as they compare to other documents. The VMS is listed as 225mm x 160mm (note that there are also larger foldouts), and is quite small compared to some of the other volumes. It’s a size that suggests portability.

I haven’t been keeping track of the dimensions of manuscripts to any great extent, I only record about 5% of those I come across, but I do sometimes note them down and, over time, have accumulated dimensions on about 50 manuscripts that are in the same general ballpark as the VMS.

Sleuthing Out Similar Sizes

Out of the reasonably close matches, there are 19 20 with the same dimensions as the VMS, variously produced on parchment, vellum, and paper. Materials and dimensions are not always listed, but a glance at the date can give a rough idea of what the writing medium might be (and if the scans are good enough you can usually tell from the digital images).

Very few of the documents fall within the same time-frame as the VMS. Those that do, tend to be reference manuscripts that are carried and consulted, such as breviaries/books of hours.

For those who are interested, here is a sample of the documents so far that are similar to the dimensions of the VMS, with information on repositories and shelf marks, and the approximate place of origin and date. The ones that come closest to the VMS are marked with asterisks:

Since this was not a systematic search for manuscripts with certain dimensions, merely a survey of some of the information I have in my files, one should not try to generalize too much from the results. Many of the manuscripts are from France, England, Germany, and Italy, but that might simply mean that Spanish or Arabic manuscripts did not include dimensions (or were not similar in size) or that the information was in a language, like Indian or Thai, that I couldn’t read. Nevertheless, it may be of interest and may yield interesting results as more data is added over time.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017, J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

A Small Piece of the Puzzle

“Despite his best efforts, Voynich never sold the manuscript. It spent 30 years in a bank vault after the bookseller died in 1930. In 1961, rare-book dealer Hans Peter (“H.P.”) Kraus bought it from Anne Nill, Voynich’s former secretary and confidant, for $24,500 plus half the proceeds of any future sale. Unable to sell the manuscript, Kraus donated it to the Beinecke Library in 1969.”

–Mike Cummings, YaleNews, April 24, 2017

The American history of the Voynich Manuscript is reasonably well documented. From articles like the one cited above, we learn that Hans Peter Kraus, a Viennese bookseller, owned the manuscript from 1961 until 1969.

Early Years

Ellis Island immigrant station courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Kraus was a Buchenwald survivor who, after a stay in Sweden, traveled to the U.S. in 1939, leaving behind tens of thousands of precious manuscripts from his antiquarian business in Austria.

He had a particular interest in manuscripts produced before the year 1500 and one can only wonder at what gems he was forced to abandon. After arriving in New York, Kraus rebuilt his business and his reputation as a keen-eyed collector and trader of books and acquired the Voynich Manuscript for a sum equal to the price of a new house and car.

While it was in his possession, Kraus made efforts to learn more about the Voynich Manuscript, traveling to Europe and visiting the Vatican Library in 1962, as documented on www.voynich.nu, If he could confirm that the author was Roger Bacon, it would not only establish the antiquity of the volume, but would give it the celebrity appeal that could garner a good price.

It is said Kraus made efforts to sell the VMS, but less is known about this aspect of the VMS’s history than others, since many antiquarian communications are by word of mouth. Dealers, especially those dealing in rare and collectible objects, often have a number of elite clients who receive news of new acquisitions before they are offered to the public.

Kraus didn’t rely entirely on walk-in business or word-of-mouth. He was also an effective print promoter. I happened across an auction catalog that makes a brief mention of the VMS in 1966, when it was still being called the Roger Bacon Cipher Manuscript. Here is a summary of the auction listing (the reference to the VMS has been bolded):

Lot Number: 178           Title: Miniatura

…H.P Kraus (New York) Fifty mediaeval and Renaissance manuscripts. catal. ii, pp.XII, 114 Thirty-five manuscripts. Including the St. Blasien Psalter, the Llangattock Hours, the Gotha Missal, the Roger Bacon (Voynich) Cipher Ms., catal. 100, pp. 90.24 x 12. Manuscripts + books, catal. 115, 1966. pp. 196….

It has been erroneously posted on the Web that this was a listing for the VMS to be auctioned off but that it didn’t sell. I think this is a misreading of the auction listing.

The publication mentioned in the auction is not the manuscript itself, but a catalog called Thirty-Five Manuscripts, Including the St. Blasien Psalter, the Llangattock Hours, the Gotha Missal, the Roger Bacon (Voynich) Cipher Ms. It was published by Kraus to promote the sale of some of his more prominent items, including the Voynich Manuscript, which was described at the time as being about 700 years old. Kraus produced at least half a dozen significant catalogs between 1956 and 1978 (and apparently many more that are lesser known, totaling more than 200).

Summary

I have not seen the catalog, it is difficult to find, but it is a cloth-bound hardback with 87 pages and 41+ illustrations, published in January 1962, and is said to be well annotated. I would be curious to know how Kraus described the VMS. A quick search of the Web revealed only a few copies of Thirty-Five Manuscripts available for purchase or viewing. Here are some examples:

  • A copy in the holdings of the U.S. Library of Congress. Unfortunately, whoever borrowed it in Jan. 2016 neglected to return it, as it is listed as overdue.
  • Abebooks lists three copies, one of which is a repeat of the copy on Amazon, and one which has library markings (should we be suspicious of its origin? ).
  • A used copy on Amazon.com for $195.
  • A copy available, by request, to view in the reading room of the National Library of Australia.

Even with this kind of promotion, apparently no one was interested in the odd little volume, as it was donated, unsold, to the Yale library in 1969. Whether the lack of a sale was because potential buyers doubted the authenticity of the manuscript, or its speculative provenance, or whether it was because the asked-for price was more than they cared to risk is unknown, but interest in this unique work has not declined in the intervening years. It still whispers to the curious among us about secrets as yet to be discovered.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Cultural Pollination

In the days before overpopulation and “private property” made it difficult to travel without getting permission or a passport, humans were nomadic. They followed the seasons and, when they had “used up” the resources in a particular spot, they moved to another one, eventually colonizing the whole planet, including places where the snow never melts. As resources dwindled, they changed from colonizers to conquerors, often displacing or assimilating earlier cultures.

From Watering Holes to Warfare

The Mongols have long been known for their great equestrian skills, and for their ability to travel long distances through harsh climates. In the 13th century they were ambitious invaders, making repeated efforts to conquer China, parts of Russia, and even eastern Europe—their campaigns ranged over thousands of miles. In so doing, they came in contact with diverse cultures, sometimes absorbing their ideas, other times influencing or extinguishing them.

Some theorists say the Asian style of dragon that is especially prevalent in China, and to a lesser extent in Persia, was influenced by Mongolian art. I don’t have time to research this, it seems to me that 13th-century Mongolian art has a different look and different themes, and that a phoenix with flowing lines existed in early Japanese art and is found in Uzbekistan mosaic art, so perhaps it was indirect rather than direct influence that brought the extravagant flames and curlicue clouds to Persia in the middle ages. There were surely multiple lines of transmission, Mongol caravans with foreign goods, and new trade routes opened by Mongol incursions, but land-roving nomads were not the only visitors—seafaring traders were constantly moving goods between east and west and ship technology was constantly improving. Whatever the source, the ties with Asia are readily apparent in 13th-century Persian art.

Click to see a larger version.

 

This fabulous textile art, created around the 11th or 12th century in east-central Asia, is thought to have been crafted by the Turkic Uyghur people, and might represent another route of transmission for east-to-west dragon imagery:

Note: Uyghur dragon textile was added a few hours after the blog was published. Note the tail snaking through the legs, a motif often seen in Mediterranean and western European drawings of lions. [Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

With reference to the Persian Ilkhanid Period (1256–1353):

“In [book] illustration, new ideas and motifs were introduced into the repertoire of the Muslim artist, including an altered and more Chinese depiction of pictorial space, as well as motifs such as lotuses and peonies, cloud bands, and dragons and phoenixes.” –Suzan Yalman, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

[Cockerel images added April 8, 2017] These examples from a group of Arabic manuscripts that were inspired by Al-Qazwini’s 13th-century bestiary, illustrate interesting differences in style:

Al-Qazwini’s bestiary, created around the mid-13th century, was reproduced in different versions. The top example of a cock from Walters MS 659 (1500s) is a traditional depiction, with no exaggeration in the landscape or details, the bottom one, from Bibliotèque Bordeau MS 1130, clearly shows eastern influence in the curlicue clouds, undulating landscape, and extravagant flame-like tail-feathers. The cock has almost been transformed into a phoenix.

Within the next few centuries, the eastern influence becomes even more apparent…

The British Library holds an illustrated Arabic romance of the adventures of the Persian King Darab, originally composed in the 12th century by Muhammad ibn Hasan Abu Tahir Tarsusi. The library’s copy dates to between c. 1580 to c. 1585, so it’s not as old as the phoenix tiles, but it shows a similar adaptation of eastern style in dragon art.

In this dramatic scene, Bahman and his horse are swallowed whole:

The nose looks like a camel, and it’s clearly a malevolent beast, but the tendrils on the lower jaw, the whiskers, eye-stripe, and mane are in the flamelike undulating style that is common to Chinese dragons.

[I had an example of an Asian-style dragon from western Europe that I found about three months ago but, unfortunately, despite a concerted hunt through my files, I can’t find it. If I do, I will upload it here.]

Summary

This is, in a sense, a follow-up to the post on the jongleurs, where the French illustrator used a different style to express itinerant performers (who may have been of eastern origin), but I also have a personal interest in Asian art and looked up some more specific examples that relate to cultural transmission to see when these particular styles were introduced to the Arabic world. Persia has had political ties with China at least since the 6th century (royalty intermarried), so there may be other examples, but unfortunately I can’t pursue all of them.

The images are interesting in their own right, so I decided to post them for Voynich researchers who may be curious about cultural influences between east and west.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

VMS F1r Column Text, updated chart

On October 24, 2016, I posted a blog about the partly erased vertical alphabet in the right column of folio 1r.  Over the next month, I added o, p, and q and one more sample of handwriting. The text is probably marginalia, it doesn’t appear to match any of the other text in the manuscript, but it may reveal a few things about the manuscript’s provenance if a match can be found.

I’m enclosing the revised chart illustrating similar hands as an addendum to the previous post, which you can read here. You can click on the revised image to see it full-sized:

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2016 & 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Scribal Relationships

Today’s blog isn’t directly related to the Voynich manuscript, but may be of interest to paleographers and medieval bibliographers in general.

Connecting the Scribes

While scanning through Vatican Ross.708, I noticed the script was similar to another manuscript I had previously seen. The writing is Gothic cursive which, in itself, is not unusual. This style of script was common in the 15th century throughout northern Europe, Bohemia, Lombardy, parts of northeastern Spain and, to some extent, the area around Naples and Salerno.

In fact, it never ceases to amaze me that a specific style of writing could be so widely distributed in the days before television and public schools began to standardize culture and teachings, especially when travel was so treacherous—turbulent seas and precipitous mountain passes were significant obstacles. If you were fortunate enough to have a horse or mule, there were places you had to dismount because the trail was too narrow for both horse and rider or, if the path wound along mountain cliffs, there was a real possibility the animal would slip and plummet, and it was better not to be astride when that happened.

This book has been sewn into a swaddling girdle to protect the manuscript on journeys. The knot could be used to tie it to belt or saddle. [Image courtesy of the Yale Beinecke Library.]

Considering the distances, and the difficulties of finding food and shelter on journeys of hundreds or thousands of miles, it’s incredible that writing styles could be so similar… and yet they were. I don’t know if anyone has given an adequate explanation for this phenomenon, but it’s evident that scribes moved around and that manuscripts were carried for great distances. Book boxes, satchels, and girdles (like the one on the right) were designed to protect books while en route.

The Romans brought coins and a new culture to England in the early years and, by the eleventh century, partly due to the Crusades, manuscripts from major trading posts in the Mediterranean were showing up fairly regularly in England, a round trip of about seven thousand miles.

Handwriting as a Research Tool

A rare self-portrait of Rufilis, the rubricator and his paints, from Bodmer Ms 127.

Handwriting is an important tool for identification. Along with other clues, it can help date a manuscript, and sometimes even pinpoint a specific origin or author. For the most part, the names of medieval scribes have been lost, although there was a greater tendency to name and date them in the middle east than in Europe. This is partly because many European manuscripts were created in monasteries and humility was considered a virtue (although some monks couldn’t resist the urge to encode their names within the text or their images within the illuminations). In other cases, even if the name was known, the person who penned it may have been lost to the annals of history due to an untimely death from war, disease, or famine. In times of war, sometimes entire villages were burned, including the records.

I mentioned in a previous blog on VMS folio 1r, that the handwriting of John Dee and Isabella d’Este show surprising similarities, considering one was educated near London and the other in Ferrara several decades earlier. You can see samples here. This is strong evidence that handwriting can be similar even if it originates in different areas at different times. It doesn’t happen often, however. After searching thousands of manuscripts, I have collected a very large number of samples, and rarely see temporally separated hands that are this similar. Because there are general patterns of change over time, handwriting can help us learn about a manuscript even if we are not completely sure of its origin.

Looking for Commonalities

To determine a common origin (or a common scribe who worked at different locations), one has to study the ink and pigments, the writing medium (parchment or paper), the angle of the writing, the angle of the pen, the slant, and the spacing between letters and lines. Even details, such as the way the pages are trimmed or bound, the worm holes, the stains, and the stitching, can provide clues.

If two different manuscripts show significant similarity, but end up in different repositories, the handwriting can help determine if they were written by the same scribe or the same scribal tradition. The origins of many manuscripts are not known and the community at large might be able to help with some of the unanswered questions now that e-facsimiles are becoming available.

The Doppelganger to Vatican Ross.708

The manuscript whose handwriting closely resembles Vatican Ross.708 (recently uploaded from microfilm to DigiVatLib in Italy), is Codex Sang. 726, which is on the Stiftsbibliothek site in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The distance between Rome and Switzerland on modern roads is almost 600 miles—a three-month journey in medieval times, much of it through steep mountain passes.

The handwriting is not a perfect match, but many of the letter forms, and even whole words, are almost indistinguishable, and the slant and line spacing are a good match as well (something that often differs dramatically even if the letter-forms are similar).

Here are some samples (click to see it full-sized). The brown ink is Codex Sang. 726 (“Scribe 1”), the black photostat is Ross.708.

Gothic cursive text samples from Codex sang. 726 and Ross.708

Samples for comparison between Codex Sang. 726 in Switzerland, and Vatican Ross.708 in Rome.

The main differences are

  • the “g” (Scribe 1 characteristically loops the tail up, Scribe 2 points it down to the left),
  • the “u” (Scribe 1 writes it with an undercurl, Scribe 2 with an overloop),
  • the “w” (Scribe 1 writes it like two v-shapes joined, while Scribe 2 tightens up the first “v”), and
  • a tendency on the part of Scribe 2 to sometimes not completely close the loop on the “e” or connect the stem on the “r”.

After collecting hundreds of samples of Gothic cursive, I’ve noticed it’s rare to find two scripts that are this similar unless they are by the same hand. Maybe they learned from the same tutor. Maybe they were blood relatives (sons often learned to write from their fathers).

Both manuscripts are in Middle German. Vatican Ross.708 (digitized from microfilm) is a popular story of travels attributed to John Mandeville and Codex Sang. 726 is about Schwabian history and law, so they are quite different in subject matter.

I can’t tell if Ross.708 was written on paper or parchment, but there are some vague horizontal striations in the muddy section about an inch in from the right on the bottom of page 2 that might suggest paper but it’s not clear enough to be sure. Note the Ex Libris mark on the same page for Bibliotheca Rossiana indicating that it probably originated from the de Rossi collection before it passed into the hands of the Society of Jesuits and the Vatican.

Sang. 726 is believed to be from S.W. Germany. It is listed as a late 14th or early 15th century document but I suspect it’s 15th century, probably closer to mid-15th century. It doesn’t use a single-loop “d” or double-story “a” as was more common in the 14th century, and it was written on paper rather than parchment, which also suggests 15th rather than 14th century (laminated paper was available around the eastern Mediterranean in earlier times, but laid and the later calendered papers, as were typically used in Central Europe, came later). Paper was available in France and Germany in the early-to-mid 14th century, but did not come into common use for manuscripts of this kind until about a century later.

Summary

So does any of this relate to the Voynich manuscript? Well, yes. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, most of the writing on the last page of the VMS is Gothic cursive script, which adds another piece of evidence to the estimated 15th-century origin of the manuscript and which relates to some of the research I’ve been doing on the text (to be posted later).

Also, Ross.708 (which was brought to our attention on the Voynich forum by René Zandbergen), includes a number of alphabets that might be of interest to Voynich researchers.

Whether these Mandevillian alphabets are actual or mythical is debatable, since Mandeville’s supposed travels have never been substantiated, and they scarcely resemble real eastern alphabets (note that each Mandeville story is accompanied by different illustrations), but they have some interesting shapes, some of which can be traced to other traditions, and might provide some food for thought.

J.K. Petersen

© Copyright 2017 J.K. Petersen, All Rights Reserved

Reconsidering the Columns

The Mystery of the Columns

i-initialn May 2016, I posted a follow-up blog about the faint letters visible on the right-hand side of folio 1r and speculated that it might be a failed attempt at decoding the manuscript. That was a guess based on seeing the Latin alphabet in the first column paired with Voynich shapes in the second, and the fact that it was later erased. Two more columns are also faintly visible, but there’s not enough detail to discuss them in depth.

In my previous blogs, I was reluctant to guess the date of the columnar writing because only a few letters are clearly visible, but I went out on a limb and estimated that it might be late-16th- or possibly 17th-century script, based on the small round shapes, the long unlooped ascenders, the slant, and the overall look and feel. I wasn’t completely sure, however, because important clues about how the writer connected the letters and spaced the lines aren’t available.

As soon as I posted the May 2016 blog, I started this blog, to describe the writing further, but was pulled away by other interests and responsibilities. The column text is a sideline for me, but studying it might reveal a few details about the VMS’s provenance, so I come back to it from time-to-time.

Who Added the Columns to the Voynich Manuscript?

My paleographic collection includes thousands of writing samples, but most are focused on Carolingian or Gothic time-frames and the VMS columnar writing is different. It looks more recent than other parts of the VMS, and more like a casual or correspondence hand than a scribal book hand, and most of it has been erased. Nevertheless, there is enough to sample some of the letters.

Voyf1rColumns1To recap: on folio 1r, the first column (to the right of the main text) is moderately clear. An alphabet has been written from top to bottom in a tidy script with small, relatively smooth curves and unlooped ascenders/descenders. I have colorized the letters to make them easier to see.

The second column starts with the VMS figure-8 glyph, followed by a small c-shape, and then some shapes that resemble the “red weirdo” at the top of the columns. I’ve colorized the “weirdos” red to distinguish them from the regular Latin alphabet in Column 1 and the VMS characters above them. Columns 3 and 4 are almost completely erased and crowded by wormholes, and column 4 appears incomplete (it’s even possible that columns 3 and 4 are one column worked in around the holes), so this blog focuses on the letters in column 1.

A Brief Background on Writing Styles

Voyf1rColumns3From a paleographical point of view, the style of writing in Column 1 is quite distinct from the angular looped ascenders and proportions of 15th-century Gothic scripts. Gothic book and cursive hands (and those that closely resemble them, like Anglicana) were predominant in the Holy Roman Empire in the 15th century and were in use all the way north to Scotland and Sweden and south to the area around Naples, partly through the influence of Benedictine and Franciscan monasteries, and partly due to commercial scriptoria that offered handwriting lessons.

Gothic cursive styles were less common in the central Italian states and western reaches of Portugal and Spain, but were used in Flanders, eastern France, and Bohemia.

Gothic handwriting is relevant to Beinecke 408 because the labels on the zodiacs, and the marginalia on the last page and a few of the other pages, are in Gothic cursive hands. The latter appears to be in an older transitional style, between a Gothic book hand and Gothic cursive (I have a detailed paper on this that I will upload in a future blog).

The folio page numbers also appear to be different from both the main text and the last-page marginalia, and it has been suggested that John Dee may have added the numbers. I have not read the prior research on Dee and the folio numbers because I wanted to determine for myself whether there is a match so I could independently corroborate or refute existing opinions and will post my observations on a separate blog. For this blog, I thought it might be interesting to ask the question…

Did John Dee Write the Marginal Columns?

johndeeportraitJohn Dee was a pious family man with a thirst for learning. His broad interests included mathematics, medicine, astrology, and many other subjects. He avidly collected books, dreamed of establishing a national library, and was eager to communicate with angels in the hope of uncovering universal truths.

Dee is often described as an alchemist but he did not engage in alchemical experiments to any great degree, except in a secondary role if they were related to angelic communication. He was interested enough, however, to read about alchemy, to have some lab materials, and to leave marginal notes in this handwritten manuscript that may have been from his library:

johndeenotes

Dee’s margin note about “the grene lyon” (the green lion) is a reference to one of the ingredients of alchemical distillation processes. Interestingly, something I noticed as I looked at page after page of Dee’s writing, is that he appears to have picked up scribal ideas for ligatures and flourishes from some of the texts that he read or copied. I noticed the scribe on the left used a ligature for “th” and, in some places, a flourished “e” that are not found in Dee’s marginal notes for this page, but which show up in Dee’s later notes in adapted form.

johndeediarysnippet

In note form, Dee’s hand can be scrawly and difficult but is elegant and comprehensible when applied to finished charts and formal correspondence. Dee could draw reasonably well, valued good handwriting, and is said to have encouraged his sons to write well so as to make a good impression. (Image detail of Dee’s autobiographical notes courtesy of the Royal College of Physicians exhibit.)

In his search for knowledge, Dee ardently tried to communicate with angels and kept profuse notes of these sessions. He made efforts, sometimes on a daily basis, to contact these heavenly messengers. As a consequence, his notes, diary, and correspondence provide enough samples to get a good sense of his handwriting.

Evolution of Handwriting

By the 17th century, handwriting in academic circles had evolved from the upright, heavy, angular Gothic styles of the 15th century to a lighter, quicker, more slanted script. Compared to early 15th-century scripts, Dee’s 16th-century lower-case letters are small and rounded, the space moderately wide between letters, and the ascenders and descenders long and not always looped, more similar to the example on the right.

gothicitalicexample

On the left is a typical example of mid-15th century Gothic script from a commercial scriptorium that taught handwriting. By the 16th century, paper was more widely available, making it easier to engage in correspondence and quicker, lighter hands became prevalent in academic circles, as in the French example on the right. Dee’s hand also reflects this change in style and bears similarities to the hands of a number of scholars and nobles in France, distant parts of the Holy Roman Empire, and what is now northern Italy.

With regard to the VMS, Dee’s script is distinctively different from the Gothic cursive on folio 116v and a few other folios, so I think we can rule out Dee as the author of the last page and the zodiac wheels marginalia. It also doesn’t seem likely that he was one of the primary scribes for the VMS—the slant and spacing don’t match, the time-frame is wrong, and he handles the pen differently from the main text (more about that and the folio numbers in separate blogs).

Overall Impression

As I collected samples of Dee’s handwriting, it struck me that it was similar to Marcus Marci’s correspondence about the VMS, penned by a scribe on Marci’s behalf several decades later. I haven’t seen this similarity mentioned anywhere else in connection with Voynich studies, so I sampled one of Marci’s letters, as well, based on the image at http://www.voynich.nu. As far as I am aware, the identity of Marci’s scribe has never been determined.

Most of Dee’s available notes were written between 1550 and 1600, almost a century earlier than Marci’s letter, and yet you will see the similarities in style in the image below. The only significant differences are the following:

  • Dee sometimes wrote “e” with an ascending tail rather than a loop,
  • Dee’s “g” descender is shorter (although not always), and
  • the starting leg of the “h” is frequently truncated so it doesn’t reach the baseline—in combination with the flourished “e”, this is a distinctive marker in Dee’s handwriting but the pattern can be found in a few others, including that of Isabella d’Este who was raised in Ferrara, far from Dee’s London, England.
voy-f1rcolumnsmall

It was necessary to hunt through several hundred documents to find a few hands that closely resembled the style of writing on folio 1r and this is still a work in progress. It may require hundreds more to get a sense of when and where the columnar letters were written. As it is, Dee’s handwriting is somewhat close, and he sometimes wrote the “e” with a hook as in the columnar text, but the slant and pressure dynamics differ, so it’s not an exact match (click to see a larger version).

The hand of Isabella d’Esté (far right) is surprisingly similar to Dee’s (with the exception of the “g”), which demonstrates not only that geographically distant writers can end up with similar letter forms, but that it’s unwise to jump to conclusions when finding something that “almost” looks the same…. there might be others that match even more closely that may lie undiscovered.

Summary

When I first saw Dee’s handwriting, I noticed similarities between it and the VMS columnar text, but after sampling the handwriting of other writers, it appears that this style of script was widespread geographically even if it was not entirely common (I encountered many other styles in the search for this handful of samples).

My gut feeling, until more data is available, is that the columnar text was probably added sometime between the late 15th century and the mid-16th century. This is very tentative, as there is so little to go on, and certainly will be revised if additional examples that match more closely are found.

J.K. Petersen

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