Standing on the corner.. Interlude

Hindsight is always 20-20 vision, they say. What’s so difficult to understand about the field of “Voynich studies” is that this perfect vision is so rarely used.

We have now Wilfrid’s opinion – his well-qualified opinion – that the manuscript presents as one produced in England in the thirteenth century.

With so much, the hugely well-qualified and highly experienced Lynn Thorndike did not disagree.

A thirteenth century date was also the immediate opinion of Panofsky, modified only by reference to the shapely ladies and range of pigments.  The pigments need not concern us yet, being added at some time unknown and none formally identified until the twenty-first century. That ‘shapely ladies’ of just the same sort appear in Jewish manuscripts of the mid-fourteenth century, from precedents of the tenth-to-thirteenth centuries, is established. So this, in the normal way, might become a ‘given’: not because of the number of individuals agreeing, but because each of those who came to that conclusion did so independently of the rest, by reference to their own area of expertise, and from an independent examination of the source – not a previously determined argument or theory.

For their different reasons, Manly, Panofsky and Thompson all indicated an origin not England but in Spain “or somewhere southern”.

And Panofsky identified the style as Jewish, with influence from Arabic traditions.

It forms a consistent context, and unlike most others, one derived by reference to contemporary and appropriate comparative examples, by individuals more than adequately qualified.

So where did this line of research go, after 1931?

Nowhere.  It was never disproven, but neither was it continued.

It was shoved into a drawer, the key turned in the lock, and Wilfrid’s far more congenial tale – formed though it was from little save imagination –  became the dominant model, as it remains, by and large, to this day.

So let’s now hear the story which de-railed this study simply by entrancing so many people, for fully four generations.

It is a tale of monks and monarchs, of wizards and moustache-twirling booted nobles, all nicely part of the mainstream Latin culture arrayed on a trail which ends at the court of no less than an Emperor!  Scarcely a solid connection to the manuscript in any of it, and most of it pure imagination, in which the manuscript serves as little more than a theatre prop ~ but a great tale for all that! And highly influential. Wilfrid was an excellent provenancer but he went beyond those limits in trying to create a history for his “pet manuscript” as Thorndike once called it.

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