f.33v Preliminary remarks

Jorge Stolfi’s paper

The header to this post shows details from an article published by Jorge Stolfi.



Stolfi’s paper is important to the history of this study not because he supposed O’Neill’s sunflower was on f.33v, nor because he failed to identify the plants, but because for the first time in discussion of this manuscript, a researcher introduced an analytical-critical method in place of the subjective, simplistic, over-assertive style that characterised previous comments on the botanical section. And which – by and large – still does.


Stolfi’s marginalisation (he was unable to agree with an-all Latin European ‘author’ theory for the script and language) saw  treatment of the botanical images revert to the older habit  – now ubiquitous but typically employed in such sites as the Sherwoods’ or voynich.nu. To mention them is no particular criticism of either, because there has scarcely been an exception to that  impressionistic/assertive style since 1912.


O’Neill’s “sunflower”

To suppose O’Neill saw a sunflower on folio 33v is still common today, but is not so.  His was attached to folio 93.


When folio 33v was first supposed to show sunflowers is uncertain, but the idea was certainly current by 1995, and possibly as early as the 1960s, (when Krauss gave the manuscript to Yale).


In 1995, Jim Reeds’  Provisional Checklist of Voynich MS “pages” mentions three ‘sunflower’ folios in all, adding  33v and 34r to O’Neill’s on f.93r:


If the New York Times article (Reeds’ NYT 6May75) is responsible for the error, it is a triple error: first, the paper’s inclusion of the wrong photo to illustrate the article; secondly, a wrong inference taken by readers from that illustration and thirdly, identification of any folio with Heliantheae.


—  “Cipher Debunked but not Decoded.” New York Times, Tuesday, 6 May 1975, sec 2, p.37, cols. 7-8) .


The reference to sunflowers occurs in reporting Brumbaugh:



Brumbaugh certainly knew  O’Neill’s “sunflower” was folio 93.  I’ve read Brumbaugh’s published articles though not his book, which  Petr Kezil says includes a chapter about it.


  •  Brumbaugh, Robert S. The World’s Most Mysterious Manuscript


So the answer to the ‘folio 33v’ error may be as simple as someone having read the New York Times article who hadn’t read O’Neill’s and forming the not-unreasonable idea that the picture of folio 33v was the picture at issue and that Brumbaugh saw it as the anachronistic sunflower.


Brumbaugh’s comments in that article and elsewhere are as poorly explained and poorly documented as any to that time, being informed more by self-confidence than any acquaintance with codicology, palaeography or art history.  His fragile premises, made overt, would read:


IF a sixteenth-century clock were pictured in the manuscript, and IF a sunflower  were pictured in the manuscript and IF a  ‘Florentine hat’ were pictured in the manuscript, those objects would be anachronistic.


which would be  fairly true.


But he does not establish any case, let alone a reasonable one, for interpreting anything in the drawings as he had done.  It is sheer subjective impression, mixed with personal imagination and unsupported by any obvious effort to understand the drawings or to justify his assumption of literalism.


I can find no   ‘seventeenth-century clock’ or ‘sunflower’ anywhere in the manuscript, and even if there were a clock drawn, it need not be seventeenth-century.  Clocks were certainly being made in Rome no later than 1475-1485, as witness the Almanus manuscript (Augsburg Staats-und Stadtbibliothek, Codex in 2 no. 209).


I cannot explain two of Reeds’ references:

Krauss 30(top)?,

Kahn plate, B&R p90.



  • Jorge Stolfi, ‘Is folio 33v a sunflower?’ (last edited 17th. January 1998 at 07:52:44 by stolfi)  ic.unicamp.br/~stolfi/voynich/98-01-17-sunflower/
  • Petr Kazil, ‘Voynich manuscript – first steps’ (ic.unicamp.br/~stolfi/voynich/mirror/kazil/).
  • Hugh O’Neill, ‘Botanical Observations on the Voynich MS.’, Speculum, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan., 1944), p. 126.
  • Robert S. Brumbaugh, ‘Botany and the “Roger Bacon” Manuscript Once More’, Speculum, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Jul., 1974), pp. 546-548. (p.546).
  • Robert S. Brumbaugh, ‘The Voynich Cipher Manuscript: a current report’, Yale University Library Gazette, Volume 61, No.3/4 (April 1987), pp. 92-95.



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