‘Calendar’ section – preliminary. (Starting from scratch #11)

Summary: A brief survey of folded books and similar forms beyond Europe.  Common errors. Notes on method.


A diagram at voynich.nu shows how these two fold-outs were bound into the manuscript – as Quire 10 (fols 69r-7ov); and Quire 11 – (fols. 71r -72v). I will be using the Beinecke Library foliation, to which the page numbers on that diagram may not conform. (As best I can discover Jim Reeds initiated the other foliation, used by members of the old and the new Voynich mailing list).

Fold-outs are relatively rare in Latin medieval manuscripts, but were commonplace in the eastern sphere, to the point where a long concertina fold, sewn to hold it in place, forms the traditional paper book in Asia.  The  illustration shows how folds are left on the outer side. By removing the binding stitches, the book could become once more a long concertina-fold, or screen.  European printed books had printing on the inner and the outer surface of each sheet, although until quite recently the outer edges might be left untrimmed, to be cut by the reader.

side-sewn-binding Japanese folds

Palm-leaf books were once found from north Africa to China and are still made in India and southeast Asia. Most are formed as strips bound with ties or lacing. The example below is fifteenth-century, inscribed in Tamil.

script Palm leaf Christian prayers Tamil 15thC

palm-leaf book. 15thC Tamil. Christian prayers.

The next illustration shows that a form of paper might also be made from palm-leaves, in a concertina-style book. This is one from the Batik people.

Batik palm book

An Ethiopian calendar fan is another interesting example, given the way the folds and edging are drawn on folio 67r.  However, in my opinion f.67r-1 is intended to represent papyrus, whose production ceased even in Egypt about the eleventh century AD.

67r1 detail palm tips

folio 67r-1 (detail)


calendar fan with staff

Ethiopian calendar fan and staff (undated)

Another sort of ‘foldout’ remained closer to the scroll. In this group, one might mention the traditional books and scrolls of the Patua people, story-tellers and keepers of genealogies.

In earlier times, Nestorian and Manichaean practice appears to have been influential from the Mediterranean to inner Asia, but details are wanting. No-one disputes the extraordinary importance of earlier Buddhist practice, which saw dissemination of paper-making and book-making through the eastern world.

In later Europe, the first fold-outs in a printed book are credited to Erhard Reuwich’s publisher. Reuwich produced topographical illustrations as full panoramas for  Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio (1504) and only in that form could they be done justice.  An example can be seen  here Text with commentary was published by Elizabeth Ross, Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book: Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio from Venice to Jerusalem, Penn State University Press, 2014.

In this context, the very long fold-outs in MS Beinecke 408 are most unusual in a work believed to have been produced in early fifteenth century Europe, even if we have seen that some forms of fold-out existed earlier and on vellum.


By reference to European models, made to the fifteenth century, our default assumption would have to be that Quires 10 and 11 in MS Beinecke 408 are unlikely to refer to astrology, and far more likely to refer to the ordinary calendar – if indeed they derive from the European tradition.  Some doubt must remain on that point.

That the traditional figure of the Centaur was replaced at all by a fully human figure argues for an introduction from elsewhere, as does use of the Dionysian sort of ‘panther’ for the figure of Leo.

It may have arrived as early as the ninth or tenth century, a time when western Christian manuscripts often omit an image of Leo from the calendar, probably by reason of a religious passage which likened the devil’s activity to that of a circling lion.

In other contexts, the lion was  separately associated with the Jews as the lion of Judah, referred to again in works that were part of Christian religious literature.  Curiously enough, in at least two fifteenth century European manuscripts, the crossbow also appears to be associated in some way with the Jews.  I’ll refer to those examples in a later post about the Archer, though why this second association arose, one cannot say certainly.  Its appearance,  like use of the standing human archer for Sagittarius,  links the graphic art of medieval Germany to that of contemporary Paris.

It is rather difficult to maintain arguments about nationality or regional cultural types when treating the introduction and dissemination of some new item in Europe’s visual vocabulary, although regional styles are clear enough.

Nor is it helpful to seek comparative examples only in one medium when tracing the route taken by a new idea.  The inspiration for replacing a Centaur with a fully-human figure might reach a given centre through work of a sculptor, fresco-painter, or worker in ivory or gold-work. It might even arrive as a new motif on some imported textile or astronomical instrument.  Omitting any but other regional manuscripts from consideration compounds the likelihood of error, as has happened before in discussions about the Voynich manuscript’s archer.

In the same way, one cannot assume that a new type, once introduced, will permeate any given region. It can only rarely be taken as definitive of geographic ‘nationality’. Transmission required a person to bring that idea, or earlier example, from one point to another, so that a painter in one monastery or scriptorium in Italy might take up an idea brought from France, while another only a few kilometers away might never know it, or it might not become more widely known for a number of years, or generations.

Use of the standing archer for Sagittarius appears to increase from the thirteenth century, becomes more common in the fifteenth and then declines in manuscript art, though remaining more common in Germany where printers appear to have found it a more versatile block. By the mid-sixteenth century, German manuscript art begins to show signs of imitating printed works until largely replaced by them.

I have spoken before about folio 72r and its ‘panther’ Leo.   ‘Cross-eyed feline and red splash’, (blogpost) voynichimagery.wordpress.com (October 29th., 2012).

And so now on with the revisionist history: the  Voynich archer..

Archer f67v


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