“Lust and Insane Love” — Now we’re Talking!

My little column here seems to turn out a real kind of success — today there was another mail in my inbox, this time from long-time contributor to the VM list Ellie Velinska, who is mostly concerned with plant identifications in the VM. Here she presents her thoughts on “Lust and insane love,” although she refers to her ideas under the less-seductive heading The Voynich Manuscript and the book found in the Tent of Charles VIII during the battle of Fornovo ;-)

Dear Elmar,

I decided to join the parade of theories showcased on your blog with your kind permission.


I noticed the VMs while reading one of the hundreds of articles titled ‘The most mysterious book’. The image included circles filled with chubby naked ladies. Being a curvatious woman myself, my first reaction was: this guy had a great taste of women… let’s see more…

At the Beinecke website I went fast through the ‘annoying’ plant illustrations until I landed on the ‘calendar’ pages and found my Zodiac sign. At the time I was sitting comfortably behind my desk.
Now, imagine the Voynich manuscript is found by bunch of men, who just stopped killing each other at the battle of Fornovo 1495.
I don’t believe they would start arguing if the plant X is Calendula or Alpine daisy. The soldiers’ first impression of the book full of naked ladies from the royal tent was: This French SOB f-ed our women!

The eyewitness account for the book at Fornovo comes from Alessandro Beneditti, surgeon for the Holy League:

‘… In that plunder I saw a book in which were painted various nude images of his mistresses, differing in appearance and age as his lust and insane love had impelled him in each city; these pictures he carried with him as souvenirs…’

No mention of any flowers. However, in the Prague correspondence regarding the VMs there is no mention of the naked women (and they are hard to miss).
The scholars simply had different agenda – presenting the book as something worth studying. The soldiers used it to degrade the enemy. The spoils from the royal tent at the battle of Fornovo ended up with the Gonzaga family in Mantua.

Later the Duke of Mantua graciously returned them to the French king with the exception of few tapestries and the book with nude women.
One explanation could be that the book was too embarrassing to ask for it back. Another – the author of the book recently passed away –
as it was the case with Jean Michel Pierrevive – personal physician of Charles VIII who died just few weeks after the battle of Fornovo.
According to a letter by the King of France from August 1495 Jean Michel died of small pox.

However, some historians believe that the outbreak in the French army in 1495 was the first mass case of the Great Pox (syphilis) – present from the New World. Anyway, in the case of terminally sick author – a prayer on the last page of the manuscript is appropriate. The famous ‘oladabas’ on the ‘michiton’ page of the VMs maybe Latin ‘O laudabas’ – ‘O praise’.

Jean Michel was not just a royal physician – he was also the royal astrologer. Before the First Italian War he issued a divine prophecy about the future success of his King that (unfortunately for his legacy) survives to this day in print. Astrology was major factor in decision-making in 15th century. Charles VIII entered Lyon, announcing his war on March 1st, 1494. He entered Rome on December 31st, 1494. Maybe the VMs ‘calendar’ running from March to December is the astrological background for the dates chosen by Charles VIII for his actions.

Jean Michel’s family was originally from Savoy. They moved to Lyon around 1470. Jean Michel got his medical training at the University of Paris around 1472. The family business was… apothecary. This may explain the obsession and the knowledge of the author about herbs (and the jars they were kept in).

Most of the VMs flowers appear to be medicinal or otherwise useful plants.

>From a letter of Charles VIII from 1486 on behalf of Jean Michel to the Duke of Savoy we learn that the apothecary business of his brothers included logistics from Venice all the way to Switzerland. Trade with Venice would explain the possibility of some Asian herbs among the plants in the VMs.

Jean Michel was not only a doctor/astrologer/prophet. He was also a poet. He is believed to be author of 10 000 word Mystery play about the Passion of Christ. So he had his way with words which may explain some possible word-plays incorporated in the VMs plant illustrations. One of the first stops in the Charles VIII Italian war was Pavia, where he met with Milan’s Ludovico Sforza, who was accompanied by Leonardo da Vinci.

While working for Sforza, Leonardo drew some of his famous anatomy drawing – including the intestines with separate drawing for the appendix (dated 1492), the lungs, the aorta and the heart. It is very likely that Jean Michel met Leonardo during this gathering in 1494. This may have inspired what I believe to be anatomy drawings in the ‘bathing section’ of the VMs.
The above theory, as fun as it is, is just speculation.

In my study of the VMs plants I get the impression that the author was German speaking person, which doesn’t go well with the French-Italian Jean Michel theory. Who knows… at the end Richard SantaColoma may be right and the whole thing may be just a spectacular joke that plays to our imagination.
All the best!

Ellie Velinska