Category Archives: The Voynich Small Plants

Pigments and Painters

How Many Scribes?

Some time ago, Currier proposed that more than one hand penned the Voynich Manuscript and labeled the pages as to which hand scribed it. I haven’t looked at these designations because I wanted to decide for myself whether more than one hand was present.

After creating my own transcript of the VMS text, and looking at every word in the document, I’m convinced there was more than one scribe and perhaps more than two. The hand at the beginning is a little rounder, the one that follows a little smaller, slightly less round, and shows signs of maybe being a quicker hand. I have more to say about this later, but it brings up questions about whether the VMS was 1) a cooperative project or 2) a situation where someone picked up the work where someone else left off. It is evident that the same systems of composing the glyphs were known by both scribes—there is a high level of consistency between the construction of the VMS word-tokens on the various pages—so perhaps the two main scribes were contemporaries.

How Many Painters?

It’s more difficult to assess whether those who added the text also created the drawings or added the paint, but it is possible to assess the styles to see if they were painted by different hands.

After looking through all of the VMS illustrations, I’m reasonably sure there was more than one person painting the drawings. The easiest way to explain my observations is with visual examples. This is not a comprehensive overview of the drawings (it deals only with the paint), and it doesn’t include examples that might have been painted by a third hand (if such a hand exists), but it’s enough to give a sense of why I believe there was more than one painter.

Some pages are hard to assess. They don’t have enough paint to reveal the style and those with blue pigment are problematic because the blue appears to have been more difficult to mix and apply, making it harder to distinguish any difference in styles, but those with a preponderance of greens and browns, which blended more readily, give some clues as to painting styles.

It’s a large image—you may have to click on it (and click again when it opens) to see the details, such as the brush strokes, and the tips of the leaves:


If the only difference between the two sets of samples were the care and attention with which the paint was applied, it would be hard to know if this were two painters, or one painter having good days and bad days, but the different way the brushstrokes are blended or not blended, the greater propensity for color mixing, and the different color “sensibility” (use of brown for accent and variety) increase the likelihood that more than one person painted the images.

J.K. Petersen

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

Voynich Text Underpinnings

A discussion about the Voynich Manuscript zodiac pages (with examples by Marco Ponzi) came up today on the forum and I wanted to post something I’ve been sitting on for a while that relates to the structure of the VMS text.

I’ve selected some of the imagery from one of the small-plant pages and included an example from Chinese. This does not mean the underlying language is Chinese but that the structure of the VMS text is similar to quite a number of languages that have a syllabic structure that is based on concept-modifier or concept-concept in various combinations of simple building blocks. I think this structure argues against a basic substitution code but might enlighten how the manuscript is encoded.


If you look at various sections of the manuscript, you will see the same patterns. The VMS is written mostly in Latin characters and numerals (with some original shapes included), but the conceptual foundation (that of basic building blocks combined in similar ways for similar items), exhibits some of the structural characteristics of syllabic languages (or of a constructed/synthetic language).

vonBingenScriptConstructed languages were not a novel idea in the middle ages. Magical languages have a long history, as do kabbalistic symbols as a means of communication. There are some interesting arguments that much of the Bible is allegorical and that there are numbers embedded in the text that provide secret information to those who are schooled in the hidden arts. Hildegard von Bingen created a cipher and partly constructed language in the 12th century.

In the 17th century, John Dee had a strong interest in ciphers, symbols, and magical languages and expended considerable energy on recording them, and Athanasius Kircher developed a universal script in the hopes that communication could reach a wider audience.

But coming back to the Voynich Manuscript…

The VMS has many properties that suggest a constructed language or perhaps one that is a hybrid of natural and constructed language. I’ve remarked before on its singularly regimented style and seeming rigidity and its similarity to syllabic languages (anyone who has practiced their ba, be, bo, bu, and ma, me, mo, mu while studying Asian languages knows what I’m talking about).

The likelihood that the labels are names or regular nouns (as opposed to combinations of noun-concepts) seems low, given that no one has managed to decode them in a way that relates to the labels as a whole or illuminates any of the rest of the text. Anagramming the characters to come up with a handful of labels that look like words isn’t sufficiently convincing either. It seems more likely that the labels represent attributes or information about the items’ composition or use than the names of the items.

Will this unlock the information on the pages without illustrations?

The structure of the “labels” is similar to that of the main text, which also appears to be made up of simple building blocks and includes a high degree of repetition, but there are some additional dynamics in the longer passages that go beyond the kind of glyph-combinations that are in the labels. The very fact that many lines end with the same characters, characters that rarely appear midline, suggests an added level of complexity. Nevertheless, a better understanding of the labels might help unlock the rest.

J.K. Petersen

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