Fold-outs. Again, from the vaults.

extract from two posts from a blog where students of historical archaeology who wish to specialise in iconographic analyis were able to refer to the Voynich manuscript for their examples.

The posts were entitled, ‘More on Textiles’ (14 December 2011)  – which dealt with the eastern traditions

and  ‘Foldout, attachment and concertina … western forms’ (January 16th., 2012).

For the purposes of this post, I have put excerpts from the later post before the eastern matter.


.  . . . . . .

The presence of fold-out sections [in the Voynich manuscript] again evokes the journeying life, the ready-reckoner and other such forms of portable handbook.

First see the following definitions as given by the Glossaries to the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated manuscripts:

Vade Mecum.

Computus texts


From the Medieval west, the ‘vade mecum’ is one of the earliest of traveller’s handbooks. Today the term vademecum is very closely associated with the practice of medieval and later medicine, but the medical sort normally includes among its fold out charts diagrams of plainly medical character, such as urine glasses and diagrams of the ‘zodiac man’, things absent from our manuscript.
In fact, the ‘vade mecum’ or ‘journey-companion’ might have come from the same exemplars as the mariners rutters, or the small portable works known in Persian as ‘ark books’. Other exemplars might be mentioned,  but certainly in the Latin west it was the peripatetic religious whose smaller, portable works often including fold out or concertina-form charts which offer our earliest examples. [On the manuscript’s dimensions, cover, and parallels to eastern works more will be said later].
For the mendicant orders’ vademecum, try if possible to read:

D.L. d’Avray (with A.C. de la Mare), ‘Portable vademecum books containing Franciscan and Dominican texts’ in A.C. de la Mare and B.C. Barker-Benfield (eds.), Manuscripts at Oxford: An Exhibition in Memory of Richard William Hunt… on Themes Selected and Described by Some of his Friends. (Exhibition catalogue, Bodleian Library; Oxford, 1980) 60-4.

Just as the Persian ark-book commonly included poems, and sometimes journey notes, or the physicians’ included diagrams of urine glasses and astrological charts, so the Franciscans’ mostly consisted of model sermons, though charts for the computus (calculation of easter) are known. If the compilation in the Beinecke were meant for use by a western preacher or physician, though, it is a most unusual example.
There were, of course, mendicant friars who did not travel; some became Popes and bishops.

One Friar Angelo, for example, was appointed Bishop of Morocco in 1234. The former military adviser to Frederick II, John of Montecorvino, became a Franciscan before travelling to China and taking up residence in what is now Beijing, over the last years of the thirteenth, and early years of the fourteenth centuries.

Like others before him, he would inevitably have encountered the style in which books and portable teaching charts were made by various eastern peoples: some on cloth, others on paper.


For the eastern scene:

The patua was a travelling teacher-storyteller whose visual aid was a scroll, this being routinely formed by joining together two or more pieces of material on which drawings and writings were presented.

Geraldine Forbes notes that the group was considered mendicant, and caste-less in Medinipur, one of the last centres for this tradition.

The patuas of Medinipur have for many generations painted scrolls designed to be unrolled while the story accompanying the pictures is sung. The patas are sheets of paper of equal or different sizes sewn together and painted. Historically the scrolls told religious stories ….
The patua ekes out a meager income by going from village to village and house to house with his bag of scrolls. In return for money or food, he unrolls a pata and tells or sings the story”
-Geraldine Forbes

In this connection, see also the type of maritime story-tellers known to speakers of Arabic as Sadr al-Samara. 

Among other references you consult, do include  ‘Hadramawt to Zanzibar: the pilot poem of the Nakhudha Sa’id Batayi of al-Hami’, Paper V in Sergeant, R.B., Farmers and Fishermen in Arabia: studies in customary law and practice, ed. G. Rex Smith, Aldershot: Variorum 1995 pp.109-27

The style of the  Indian patua’s art is linked (doubtless by long tradition) to the style of pen-and-colour drawing known as  kalamkari (example, above left), and in this style you’ll doubtless see close similarities to the ornate patternings and fillers which see see especially in folio 86v.


From There are various examples of fold-out palm leaf books too used in India and south-east Asia, and I’ve already referred in detail to these.  But today also see the page from Syracuse University,  Book Arts and Library.


Here’s an example of botanical imagery from a story-telling scroll now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The winged bull, of course, is as old as Babylon, but see how this drawing of the palm permits comparison to the style we find in the Vms’ botanical section.(The language used in the scroll below is Telegu).










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