Tag Archives: Voynich pond


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



A Tail in Several Cities

The Roots of the Tail

In a previous blog, I did some image processing on VMS folio 79v and discovered some odd-looking tails under the green paint.

VMSPond2It’s not unusual to find a feathered tail on images of animals that look like lions, but the critter top-right has a very strange branch-like (or root-like) appendage where one would expect a tail and the lower-left one is unusual too.

RomanDolphinTail2So I looked around and discovered that the Imperial Roman era had quite a tradition of embellishing tails—especially those of sea critters (including fish-legged gods). Even dolphins, which are not fish and do not have fish tails, were created with flower-like tails.

Here are some examples from Greek and Roman mosaics and frescoes. I have intensified the colors on some of the monocromatic mosaics so you can see the imagery more easily.


Dragon with frilled or firey tail in a 3rd century BCE mosaic from Kaulon (Magna Graecia, s. Italy ) courtesy of Wikipedia. Below are Roman mosaics with dolphins or porpoises.

TurkeyDolphinTailTunisDolphinTailRomanDolphinsRomanDolphin3Dolphins or porpoises were a common theme in Roman art, but sea-goats and gods were also drawn with embellished tails.


Sea-goat tails were frequently embellished, as in this Roman floor mosaic from Housestead, England, but lions and horses were sometimes drawn with flowery tails, as well (Housestead mosaic photos courtesy of Mary Ann Sullivan).

RomanGodTailThe natural question to ask is whether Roman imagery (or its later copyists) could have influenced the VMS illustrator and, if so, where was this tradition prevalent? The answer isn’t helpful—the fancy tails are everywhere. Roman flower-tails have been found in every corner of the realm from Rome to Turkey and Tunis to England.

The tradition appears to have inspired manuscript artists in later years, as parchment became more widely available. Embellished tails can be found in marginalia in many manuscripts and not just on sea-critters, the idea expanded to include many forms of mythical beasts, gods, and hybrids. These are just two examples from Ms Trinity B-11-22:

TrinB11-22SplitTail2 TrinB11-22SplitTail


Flowery tails adorn marginalia dragons in many of the English manuscripts, perhaps inspired by the Roman mosaics at Housestead and Bath (Ms. Add. 62925 c. 1290).


A manticore was a creature with a lion’s body, a man’s face, and the tale of a scorpion. As can be seen from this example in Ashmole 1511 from early 13th century England, the interpretation could be quite imaginative and unlike a scorpion’s tail.


This lavishly embellished tail is in a late 14th c Hebrew manuscript in the British Library (Add Ms 26878).

Are There More Telling Tails?

Given the popularity of fancy tails in medieval manuscripts, it’s possible those strange painted-over tails in the VMS were intended as traditional embellishments that didn’t quite work and were covered up by the original illustrator, or maybe they were painted over by someone else. It’s hard to tell, but at least it appears they may not be as unusual as I originally thought.

DragonThumbThe flower-tail critters may also give us additional insight into the strange animal nibbling on a leaf in folio 25v, the one that several have claimed is a mandrake plant with a dog pulling on it.

If the critter by the plant is a dragon, rather than a sheep or a dog (note that the ears are similar to the upper-right pond critter), maybe that curious appendage on its butt isn’t a badly drawn foot—maybe it’s a mini flower tail.

J.K. Petersen

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