Dimensions and Proportions Brit.Lib.Mss from 1340-1450 AD

[16th June 2013~ a few additions. In blue, asterisked]; * 6th March 2015 – header reinstalled; hyperlinks and illustration added.



I wanted to be clear about just how very different the Voynich manuscript’s content appears when compared with a typically Latin or Byzantine manuscript and, further, to distinguish between the making of herbals as books, and the imagery set in them. To be a ‘match’ for ms Beinecke 408, not only what is in the book, but where it came from, and where it was then copied all matters.

*16th June – I’ve just found another good site online. Link is to the section on page preparation/ruling up)

Almost as inflexible as the ‘Gregory rule’ in Latin and Byzantine tradition was a habit of making books to a ratio of 3:2. The following diagram is another from ‘Architecture of the Book’. More on the subject here.

ms ratio blog

ms Beinecke 408 has a form more-or-less in keeping with that ratio, but when the measurements themselves are considered, a clearer picture emerges.

All manuscripts in the British Library’s digitized illuminated manuscripts together with herbals from the digitized manuscripts collection formed the set to be sampled.

It’s a fairly rough-and-ready sort of survey and only the clear results make it worthwhile.

No  allowances are made, not even for trimming or wear.

One outlier, an early 13thC ms, is included to show that 160mm seems to have been a regular measure before the sampling period (1390 1340-1450).

The first set of figures in millimeters describes the page/folio. The second, where given, is bracketed and describes the folios’  ‘text box’. Library descriptions imagine the textbox a plain rectangle whether or not pictures are in it, or how much text is actually placed in it.

Both sets of measurements are not given by the Beinecke web-site; I have assumed what is given is the page measurement.

Text-box is often more informative of provenance, because pages are not rarely trimmed or otherwise reduced over time.

In this case, I think it worked well enough.

Despite the artificial method, a fairly consistent picture emerges – and remember I hunted every manuscript with either of the dimensions, whether external or internal, in the whole of the Brit.Library’s manuscripts online.

Interestingly, not one manuscript of the Latin tradition turned up any further north than Italy and France.

I am reassured to see that these results are so consistent with the C-14 date, and accord too with other analyses of  palaeography, epigraphy and the likely social context suggested by earlier research – others more than my own.

According to the Beinecke’s catalogue, the Voynich measures 225 x 160 mm.  It represents a ratio of  3 : 2.14

Note: I did remember to look at voynich.nu.  Rene Zandbergen’s site gives larger measurements :  23.5 x 16.2 cm (235 mm x 162 mm), a ratio of  2.7 : 2.0 approx.  The rule, here, is always to follow the curatorial description, so Rene’s measurements were not taken into account.


* Brit.Lib. MS Harley 2993 –   225 x 160 (145 x 110); Italy, N. E. (Venice) 1437 AD; Latin; Gothic. Parchment codex. Roman martyrology.

* Brit.Lib. MS Harley 5233 –    225 x 160 (140 x 95); England, c. 1436; French and Latin; Gothic cursive. Parchment codex. Legal texts.


* Brit.Lib. MS Harley 632  –     295 x 220 (220/225 x 150/160); England 1438 AD; Latin; Gothic cursive (Secretary). A paper codex. Syon Abbey, Middlesex, founded 1415. The Library gives no details of the contents, referring readers to:

Vincent Gillespie (ed.), Syon Abbey and A.Ian Doyle (ed.), The Libraries of the Carthusians, Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 9 (London: The British Library, 2001), pp. lxvi, lxix, 307-08 no. 952, 676 2001, pp. 307-08.



PAGE has a measure of  225 mm.

(i) external

MS Yates Thompson 14 – 335 x 225 (215 x 130); England, E. (Mulbarton, Norfolk?) c. 1330-1340 AD; Latin; Gothic.

MS Additional 10456 – 300 x 225 (210/230 x 145/155); Eastern Mediterranean or Germany, 1349; Hebrew Ashkenazi; Ashkenazi                                                                                                                                                      square script, punctuated.

MS Harley 5421 Pt2-   225 x 145 (150 x 90); Giovanni Boccaccio Bucolica; Italy, Central (Florence) 1408 AD; Latin.

MS Royal 19 B XVI – 305 x 225 (210 x 150); France, N., 1428 AD;  French; Gothic cursive.

MS Additional 15423 – 330 x 225 (200 x 125); Italy, Central (Florence) 1441-1467; Hebrew; Italian semi-cursive script,                   punctuated                                                                                                                                script,  punctuated.

(ii) textbox

Harley 632   –   295 x 220 (220/225 x 150/160); England 1438 AD; Latin; Gothic cursive (Secretary).

Harley 3949  –   285 x 200 (225 x 140); Italy, N. between 1447 and 1455 AD; Latin; Gothic.

Additional 16577 – 325 x 220 (225 x 140); Italy 3rd quarter of the 15th century; Hebrew; Italian semi-cursive script, partially punctuated.


PAGE has a measure of 160 mm.

(i) external

*MS Harley 2558  – 210 x 150 (160 x 105) England, S. W. 1st half of the 15th century; Latin and English; Gothic cursive.

*Sloane 1977  – 235 x 160 (160 x 110) in two columns  France, N. (Amiens) 1st quarter of the 14th century; French. Gothic. Medical inc. matter from Platearius, Galen and ‘Ypocras’ – Hippocrates.

MS Royal MS 12 C XIX – 220 x 160 mm (text space: 145 x 90 mm); England, central or northern, 1200-1210; Latin and Old French; Gothic with tironian crossed et . ampersands. Anthology contains bestiary, Isidore, theol.

MS Additional 11639160 x 120 (90/80 x 65/55; with marginal text: 100/90 x 65); France, N. 1277-1286; Hebrew. Note – this is the ‘Northern French Miscellany’, details of which are in my post ‘ A much-travelled Jewish miscellany‘ (22/06/2013).

MS Additional 15282 –    230 x 160 (145 x 100); Germany 1st quarter of the 14th century; Hebrew, Aramaic; Ashkenazi                                                          Ashkenazi square  and semi-cursive script, main text is punctuated, marginal text is unpunctuated.

MS Harley 6613 –    160 x 105 (110 x 70); 1st quarter of the 15th century, after 1409; English; Gothic. Lollard text.

MS Additional 18970 –   160 x 110 (90 x 60); Spain 15th century; Hebrew; Sephardi semi cursive and square script. punctuated.

MS Harley 2698 –   160 x 115 (105 x 80); Italy, S. (Candida) 1423; Latin; Semi-humanistic.

MS Lansdowne 344160 x 115 (110 x 80); England (Midlands?) c. 1425; Latin and English; Gothic. ‘Speculum Christi’ and Dominical tables.

– Just for interest, and to break the monotony of this list, I add (6.03/2015) these tables (fol 2v).  It is not new information, exactly. A fair number of researchers have already raised the matter of the Dominicans and their works in relation to the Voynich manuscript. See e.g. d’Imperio § 8.1 or Philip Neal’s references to Petrus Nigri. d’Imperio wrote before the landmark publication of Mary Carruther’s Art of Memory.

Dominical tables from MS Lansdowne 344 f2v

To continue with pages having external measure of 160mm

MS Burney 289  –  235 x 160 (150 x 100); Italy, Central (Florence) 1427; Latin; Humanistic.

MS Harley 5233  –  225 x 160 (140 x 95); England c. 1436; French and Latin; Gothic cursive. Book of Hours according to the usage of Rome.

MS Harley 2993 –   225 x 160 (145 x 110); Italy, N. E. (Venice); 1437; Latin; Gothic.

(ii)  text box

MS Additional 9405 –   250 x 190 (160/165 x 125); Germany 1309; Hebrew; Ashkenazi square script, punctuated & unpunctuated Ashkenazi semi-cursive script.

MS Additional 9406 –   250 x 190 (155/160 x 125); Germany 1309; Hebrew; Ashkenazi square script, punctuated.

*(and see above) MS Sloane 1977 – 235 x 160 (160 x 110) in two columns; France, N. (Amiens) 1st half of the 15th century; French; Gothic.

MS Harley 5613 –    220 x 145 (160 x 90); Eastern Mediterranean, May 1407; Greek; Greek minuscule. Christian religious texts and Chrysostom’s ‘De proditione Judae homilia ii’

MS Additional 60577  – 210/215 x 135 mm (text space: 160 x 90 mm); c 1487-1574; Miscellany. French & Latin, Middle English. (includes herbal folios)

MS Harley 632 –    295 x 220 (220/225 x 150/160) [see above ]

* in blue. Additions made 16th June 2013.

* links and illustration added 6/03/2015


  1. See also Brit.Lib. MS Harley 299. It doesn’t come up in the manuscript search, but its description is offered at:

    In more ways than one it offers points of comparison with MS Beinecke 408, Its dimensions are “225mm x 160mm approx.” It has been inscribed by several scribes, and probably from a number of separate exemplars. A good article on the ‘Brut chronicle’ is online from the University of Michigan.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s