Koen’s comment to an earlier post offered helpful comparisons (repeated below) for the bordering line which appears in numerous folios of the Voynich manuscript (illustrated left from f.68v).
In Voynich studies, a convention (whose original proponent I cannot discover), sees this sort of line described as a ‘cloudband’, a term that by analogy suits its employment in f.68v pretty well. I say “by analogy” because in Latin art the cloudband appears consistently in a different form, though to the same purpose as the liminal line is used in f.68v namely, to indicate the boundary between the mundus and the realm of deity. An exemplary version:
Though cloudbands may vary somewhat in the Latin manuscripts, they are always formed as a repeat, initially based on a motif also used for vertical or horizontal borders. The repeat is carefully regular and symmetrical. Among the variations a couple are illustrated below, the simplest as e.g. MS Harley 4431; and one a little more ornate from BNF fr.565.
As one moves further north from Paris, one finds that the cloudband’s line maintains its indented form and outer edge but becomes ever closer to the appearance of the next example – from Brit.Lib. MS Harley 1502 (below). This folio from Harley 1502 was first mentioned by Don Hoffmann.
IN order to find this sort of thing described by a line as simple and irregular as that used by the Voynich manuscript, we have to move south of Paris and eastward to the coast – to that region spanning the Spanish-French border to which our attention has been directed so often in provenancing the Voynich imagery. Here, Occitan and Catalan were among the local tongues..
The example above was drawn c.1400, in a copy of Breviario de Amor which contains no other illustrations, though frames had been prepared for a large number. CUL Codex MS 63 is copy of the paraphrase and translation into Catalan of an Occitan treatise in verse: Le breviari d’amor. Composition of the original dates from 1288. Its author was a Franciscan friar and master of laws, Matfré Ermengaud de Béziers who died in 1322. He is also described as a troubador.
I’ve chosen that illustration in particular because of the border-line (of course) but also because it shows the deity holding a sphere. Whether the maker meant us to read the line as a cloudband proper, or only as outline of a ‘cloud of glory’ is unclear, but not essential to know.
The critical factor is the draughtsman’s sharing the Voynich manuscript’s evident indifference to those principles of regularity and symmetry which define the style of the ‘cloudband’ In Latin art. Nor does this example (or that in the Voynich manuscript) at first strike the viewer as any regular repetition of a single motif.
Another instance from the same period and region, and from the Occitan text of the same work shows again this sort of border made a single, irregular, undulating line. It means that no easy argument can be invented to explain the Voynich line’s form by imagining a draughtsman appropriately deficient – as careless, infantile, incompetent etc.. In fact, the reason this line has its form is ‘explained’ clearly enough by the same picture’s border. It shows that the informing ‘motif’ (so to speak) – was the vine.
Though here as in folio 68v, the line is put to the same purpose as the cloudband was in other works, we cannot presume the were identical in significance any more than in their respective forms.
Each serves, rather, as a partial synonym for the other (so to speak) and only partial because where the cloudband proper maintains everywhere a consistent structure and significance, the free form of the ‘vine line’ (as we’ll call it) has applications in the Beinecke manuscript which are not so easily classified. What is more, these ‘other applications’ constitute the majority of the line’s occurrences in the Voynich manuscript and will be considered in Addendum B.
One more detail from that image in Harley MS 4940 deserves notice. It has the centre of the mundus‘ centre a fourfold division, and not the standard three of Asia, Europe and Africa. I won’t digress to treat this now, but would say that while a viewer might take the fourth as meant for the Paradise or for Eden, they might equally take it as allusion to Jewish Haggadah which had Noah’s land where he re-planted the grape vine after the Flood in North Africa (not Ararat).
Within that area of the southwestern Mediterranean where both Occitan and Catalan were spoken, other dialects and language were in regular use including Judeo-Catalan, Judeo-Provençal and Latin with some vestige still of Arabic. Most of that area of interest to us until 1375-7 lay under the aegis of the Majorcan kingdom and Papal Avignon.
The most obvious point has been made – that the diagram in f.68v uses a form of line which occurs often in the Voynich manuscript and which in this case only is fairly equated with use of the ‘cloudband’ in other Latin manuscripts. The line itself does not accord with the practice of high medieval art in depicting the cloudband, and accords better with a southern provenance than a northern one.
So many details in the Voynich manuscript have directed our attention to the same region of the south-western Mediterranean that it is impossible even to list them all here. One or two examples will have to do.
In researching the botanical folios, we found our closest parallels for the ‘twining’ sort of root occurred in works produced during the twelfth- and early thirteenth-century, in upper Mesopotamia. For other forms of root, the closest parallels were in works produced during the mid-thirteenth to mid-fourteenth century in Iberia and Majorca but thereafter in some Latin works – chiefly those from Padua and the Veneto, and those later ones often associated with Franciscan patronage or provenance. As were the paintings in the Eremitani.
Shifting loci of this sort are usually taken as valuable in mapping stemmae, but that isn’t our present concern and I would emphasise that in the case of the plant-roots in the Voynich botanical folios (i.e. exclusive of the root-and-leaf section), it is clear that to define their occurrence is not to define the origins of the Voynich manuscript as a whole, nor even that of its whole botanical section. Above such roots, the Voynich botanical images show evidence of a much earlier and rather different origin, as I have earlier explained. And in our comparison below, the comparison is indicative only of a common interpretation and expression of a form; above the root, again, in each case, the plant shown is a different one.
The comparison (below right) is from a work very narrowly and securely located: it was made in Iberia (Portugal) by Sephardi Jews, during the months from July 30, 1299 to May 19, 1300.
Congruence between these two details is plain enough, but the constant factor is neither plant identification nor imitation from a single exemplar. The common link is a common understanding between the makers about certain ideas concerning womens’ sexuality and its nature.
A second example from among the many: In looking backwards in time to discover whether particular themes or forms had been attested earlier than the thirteenth century in western Europe, we found use of the vegetative border as liminal line, together with the same effortless equation of star with flower as occurs in the Voynich manuscript’s calendar. The next illustration is from the Visigothic period in Spain.
When we find two essentially unlike things such as star and flower treated as interchangeable iconic elements, the key to their conceptual equation is usually linguistic. For the Visigothic example (as I’ve said in earlier posts) the word is ‘estrella’ and/or the Greek *‘aster
ios‘. In the case of the Voynich archer, it was ‘Sagittario’/Saggitario’.
*(Correction – thanks Koen. my thoughts seem to have on that cloud-dragon in the previous post. )
In all such cases, the primary source’s own testimony must be given precedence and explained by the use of solid historical texts, complemented by consideration of contemporary languages and general attitudes of a given community. To first invent a mythical-, fictional-, or hypothetical scenario, to which the manuscript’s interpretation is made ancillary, is not the way to achieve a solid understanding of it.
In this case, the primary evidence points constantly, consistently and repeatedly to the work’s depending on thirteenth or fourteenth century exemplars created in the fringes of Latin Europe; to the southwestern Mediterranean and to the maritime contacts (or ‘entanglements’) of that same region – including but far from limited to its closer association with Genoa and with England before 1415.
Koen Gheun’s thirteenth-century examples of the ripple- boundary were gained from the eastern Mediterranean: one from a city in lower Asia Minor and one from Cairo.
Also from Asia minor, but now from the northern town long called Nicaea ( but Iznik today) a traditional style of ceramic ornament employs a ‘vine line’ for borders which, these days, are quite regular but which most interestingly replace the older form of leaf and fruit with a version of the Asian ‘cloudband’ motif.
The substitution is entirely understandable, given the prohibition of alcohol in Islamic religious thought, but also provides us with valuable evidence that the two ideas – cloudband and vine – were there too considered acceptable alternatives.
I think Koen and I agree the wooden ‘veils’ meant to signal the preacher’s transition from a worldly level and -discourse to that which concerned higher matter. Whether a thirteenth-century congregation saw it a cloudband, or as the sort of vegetative veil that one saw hanging above a doorway or cave I don’t know.
The lower heavens as a veil of vegetation also appears in some few items of Latin art, including a curious image from BNF fr.565. As a piece of Latin imagery it lacks both artistic merit and integrity, but one may at least give the maker a few points for trying.
We must allow that the Voynich manuscript’s use of the ‘vine line’ in f.68v is meant for the world’s liminal border too, as the cloudband was in Latin works, but this applies only to folio 68v and does not make of the vine a cloud.
It is not a definition easily applied, either, to the great majority of examples. To understand those will surely require recourse to texts and to earlier art, to allegory, metaphor and local culture and languages. But if this manuscript were not complex, it would have been understood fairly well (as most Latin works are) within a decade at least of its discovery in 1912.