Speaking of Fantastical Drawings…

Has the secret of the Voynich Manuscript been revealed! No, probably not. See here for background https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/05/author-of-mysterious-voynich-manuscript-was-italian-jew-says-scholar

The Guardian article relates to a claim in the foreword of a new facsimile edition of the infamously inscrutable book.

“Pointing to the fact that the pictures show only nude women and no men, Skinner told the Guardian: “The only place you see women like that bathing together in Europe at that time was in the purification baths that have been used by Orthodox Jews for the last 2,000 years.”

He believes the drawings were of an invention designed by the mysterious author that aimed to ensure an efficient supply of clean water to a mikvah. “I think there is no other explanation for what they are: it is either rank fantasy by the author – which doesn’t really fit with the medical, herbal and cosmological sections of the manuscript – or it is a mikvah,” he said.”

Here is an example of one of the women bathing images:


I’m not saying that the original author couldn’t have been both Italian and Jewish. Italian is not unlikely given the book’s history and learned Jewish doctors were writing books in fifteenth-century Italy. It’s as good as guess as any. However, the idea that the pictures must represent something the original author must have seen doesn’t hold water. While the detailed plant images suggest drawings of real (but perhaps unusual) plants, the various ‘women bathing’ images are very inventive:


[more here https://www.jasondavies.com/voynich/#f77v/0.623/0.134/2.93 ]

The work overall is very visually imaginative, so while it isn’t impossible the author was inspired by ritual baths, “women having a bath” wouldn’t be the hardest thing to imagine for the author without having a particular inspiration – particularly compared with women having a bath in convoluted, quasi-organic contraptions that spill around the whole page.

Maybe the author just liked the idea of having baths with other women or just liked imagining women naked having baths in really freaky plumbing. Either way, the author clearly had an extraordinary visual imagination (if not always the best drawing skills).


14 responses to “Speaking of Fantastical Drawings…”

  1. I find it unconvincing. For one thing, Moorish Iberia had many Turkish/Arabic hammams and elements of gender separated religious rituals and cultural practices. To claim that Italian Jewish spaces were the only place where this happened seems a stretch. Also who’s to say they aren’t stomping on grapes? or maybe this is fantasy viniculture of dubious sanitation?

    At any rate, the Beinecke = ❤

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