Daniel’s Questions 5/8: Nekkidness

5. Has the gender of the authorship been discussed?
5.1 Could the drawings be the work of some male nerdy adolescent digesting pubertal sexual phantasies? Or could they even be the work of a female, expressing everyday life?
5.2 How common was female nudity in 15th century Europe? Was bathing done in groups rather than in private?
5.3 What do we know about shame regarding nudity in the 15th century?

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31 thoughts on “Daniel’s Questions 5/8: Nekkidness

  1. Daniel: The gender of the author has been an question brought up, and in light of your points. If a man, or adolescent boy, the female images may have been titillating to them. Elitsa Velinska outlines another possible reason they could be included, in a thread here on Elmar’s pages, recently posted. She also has outlined some very convincing anatomical comparisons, and like she has, others have wondered about various medical and health issues being depicted, and many of them relating to female concerns: Pregnancy, childbirth, menstruation, female birth control.

    Also, Christine de Pizan has been mentioned as a candidate for author, and if the Voynich is as old as the vellum it is written on, then I agree she is a good possible. Some who have mentioned her are Berj at the Journal of Voynich Studies, and P. Han. Elitsa may have, also. But de Pizan’s interests and writings seem to be right in keeping with much of what we see in the Voynich: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_de_pizan

    I would recommend that you download a copy of Mary D’Imperio’s classic on the Voynich, “An Elegant Enigma”. She covers the “state of the art” up to the 1970’s, and I think just about everything you mention, we mention, and will be mentioned, is between its covers. Rich.

    http://www.nsa.gov/about/_files/cryptologic_heritage/publications/misc/voynich_manuscript.pdf

    • Rich,
      thanks for the links, the latter is a lot to read and the person of Christine de Pizan appears definitely an interesting topic of its own.
      What bothers me a lot with the Vm is, that on first sight it appears almost like a modern amateur kitschy cliché of some early feminist activities the clergies would have viewed as witchcraft.
      Womens issues, calendars of some sort suggesting birth control, herbs that could possibly be used for abortion, all written in a secret womens-language.

  2. Hi Elmar, Daniel, Rich

    I’ve been planning to summarize my thoughts on the gender of the author and I’ll try to do this soon (maybe after the revenge of my home-team Botev against Stuttgart :)

    I strongly believe the author of the VMs is a man since I realized there is a possibility the ‘bathing’ section of the manuscript to be anatomy drawings. For me, it took the book to another level – not your local witch mixing potions anymore. I need to prepare Steve D psychologically before I post further on this matter.

    De Pizan’s works were philosophical – the VMs is nature,astrology,biology. I was genuinely hoping it would be something more interesting, but the more I study the book the more I think it is just a physician – since roughly half the population is female – woman’s health should be present in his work.

    I disagree with ‘adolescent digesting pubertal sexual phantasies’ characterization. The body mass index of the ‘nymphs’ for me is a sign of mature adult who grew up to appreciate the beauty of full figured women :)

    On serious note: the author was catholic, which means excessive adoration of the mother figure.

    Why catholic? 15th century – the whole protestant thing is just brewing – so it is a safe bet. 16th century puts the odds 50/50. Plus, the crocodile skull on the black cumin drawing means for me – mainstream education. There is zero chance for the western European to be bitten by crocodile – so the author was showing off his ‘academic’ knowledge – according to Dioscorides black cumin is used to treat crocodile bites. Universities were religious institutions – thus catholic. The author may have been educated by tutors at home, of course. I eliminated Jewish author when I found the the cat-o-nine-tails root on the Pasqueflower (I don’t believe Jewish author would be fooling around with the scourging of Jesus). Also the herb selection reminds of what is known as Mary’s garden in which certain herbs have names like Our Lady’s pincushion – thus we get pincushions in the root of the ‘sunflower’ etc.

    All of the above may be just my imagination, but this is where I stand today on the issue.
    All the best! Ellie

    • Dear Elitsa,

      I am looking forward to your theories. (Though, the crocodile-skull-theory appears as a strech to me.)
      Regarding adolescent theory:
      When I first looked at the VM, It very much reminded me of my school journals, with lots of sketches conducted boredly and daydreaming during class. I still see it as some kind of personal journal of some adolescent, due to all the playful details and elements that appear to be out of context or concept, but rather intuitively conducted. (therefore my questions 6 and 7) What is remarkable about the women is their quantity, though not the quality and care they are drawn with. I presume that contradicts a “sexual phantasy theory” in some way.

      • Dear Daniel, wonderful example how we view the VMs through our own biases. Until the author’s intentions are revealed the manuscript will continue to be one giant Rorschach ink-blot. We can only hope that Elmar will crack the code and/or Rich can find the final proof that the book is forgery and save our imagination from evil :)

      • Hey Elitsa,

        I needed to lough out loud on the giant Rorschach ink-blot :D

        Too true! But I guess thats the fun part.

  3. About the bathing.
    15th century Europe the bathing was happening. It was later in 16th century when the scientists came up with the idea that the black death comes from the water through the pores of the skin and unfortunately the well educated decided to make sure the pores are ‘safely’ clogged.
    15th century – bathing – yes. Thermal baths are popular. I’ve seen German manuscript with bath heating technology illustrations from 15th century.
    The public baths, however, had a reputation of place for mischief. Pope Pius II (1405-1464) was author of erotic play in which the main characters were two prostitutes waiting in public bath for clients. He wrote the play before he became a pope – he behaved after that.

    In this environment, if the VMs baths depict public baths – then the nymphs may be naughty. If the VMs baths depict anatomy – l view the nymphs in more inspirational context – mother Mary-like characters.

  4. I’d just like to point out that nothing about the imagery, neither stylistics nor items drawn, refers to the mores of Christian or Islamic art. Therefore to say that the “author” was a European Christian is an imaginative statement, doubly so as we have no evidence that the Voynich manuscript is an ‘authored’ work.

    • Dear Diane,

      thank you both for your insight.
      Diane could you elaborate on ‘authored’ work. What whould be a non-authored work?

    • Hi Diane – yes, it is just imagination, but the 16th century European bathing disaster teaches us one thing: when considering scholar’s opinion – always make sure it passes the smell test! Sometimes it is wiser to trust your own nose rather than scholar’s training :)
      My nose says – Western Europe, your academic training says – Hellenistic something… it is a tough call…

  5. That is: Muslim-Islamic art. The empire of Islam included a great variety of peoples and wide range of belief-systems once it spread through the eastern seas and parts of India.

    • Are you suggesting that the VM itself could be Muslim-Islamic art? I just looked on middle circle of the rosetta page. On top is some oval shape, appearing as a fringed star spangled canopy or cloud in the middle over 6 onion domed towers. (I think the canopy cloud is rather a start of the drawing the artist has given up on and decided to make the center circle a lot bigger)
      The onion dome towers do look quite similar to mosque architecture, but onion domes did appear on churches in the 16th century in southern Germany and Austria and even earlier on Russian orthodox churches. Doing some image searches on “onion dome” vs “mosque” I find Islamic parallels to the 6 rosetta towers more convincing.

  6. Daniel,
    The term ‘rosettes’ page was coined just as a description for it.
    I meant that neither Christian nor Muslim habits or motifs appear anywhere in the manuscript, as far as I have found. There is a bit of a habit of seeing any ‘+’ shape as a Christian cross, though that is only likely to prove true in the case of the later inscription on f.116v.

    An authored work is one which did not exist until a single individual produced it as a new composition. The vast majority of manuscripts remaining from before 1438 are not authorial compositions, but extracts or complete copies of older works. At the time, the fashion was for works as ancient as possible and these were copied in great numbers along with the usual range of religious works, Psalters, lapidaries, bestiaries and that sort of thing.

    The wide diversity between the sections of the ms also add (in my opinion) to the likelihood that the Vms is yet another of those works compiled from older texts. I think most work on tracing the imagery’s lineage has gone into comparisons with figures in other European herbals. Rene has been especially concerned with that side of things. I’ve done a bit on tracing the ‘family tree’ for the botanical images too, along with all the rest.

    An important reason for making compendia was to collect information needed by a specific profession or industry. In the last case, ‘trade secrets’ certainly offer one potential reason for enciphering or encoding a text – a point made long before I ever came to consider this manuscript.

    • Hi Diane: This is incorrect, in this context: Whether copied or not, any work has an “author” or “authors”. Using the term author, I mean, does not obviate or ignore the possibility that the work has been copied, or even compiled, from other or earlier works. When the term “author” is used in relation to the Voynich, no one is assuming it cannot be a copy of that author’s work.

      Also, there is clearly at least one cross, most likely a Christian one, in the Voynich, on f79v: http://www.jasondavies.com/voynich/#f79v/0.388/0.124/4.00 Rich.

      • The discussions about the definition of authorship is probably as old as structured intellectual output. In todays copyright discussions we would call this a remix. The item the woman on the top of f79v has in her hand came to my mind too as a Christian cross, but this also might be something someone copied incorrect.

    • Dear Diane,

      thank you for your comprehensive explanation.
      Now I do understand your point a lot more.

      I have tons of more questions, though this does get off topic and they will find better treads to be asked.

      • Daniel,
        The technical terms are ‘compiler’ – if the individual who made a particular compilation is known; ‘editor’ and ‘redactor’ are used for persons responsible for systematic working over, correction or excerpting a given text, and more generally copyist or scribe. While the usage on the Voynich mailing list may be a loose as Rich Santacoloma suggests, speaking of an ‘author’ usually implies an authorial text ~ as you can see by the number of people whose historical researches have focussed on some individual author such as Averlino, or Drebbel etc.etc. Use of the term ‘author’ in this case is either pre-emptive or misleading to the public, and I would suggest its avoidance even if, within the specific environment of Rich’s mailing list, it is used more casually.

        That cruciform object to which Rich refers, by the way, is not formed as a Christian cross, and in any case the image could not be of Christian make – in my forty years’ experience, I’ve never yet seen a Christian image of a crucifix held in the hand of a stark naked female. Its is contrary to medieval Europe’s Christian cultural norms.

  7. No Elmar – I asked you once. You gave a cogent reason for refusing.

    And as I am, as far as I’m aware, the only person writing to your blogposts who is formally qualified to analyse and discuss the implications of imagery, the comments may prove useful to someone, at some time.

    The most interesting factor here, I think, is why so few people stop to consider this fact:

    ~ that although they are unable to read e.g. medieval Irish, or Latin, or Old English or old Russian, or Armenian, nevertheless images in manuscripts from those environments are accessible to them: we can ‘read’ the figures (more or less) without too much difficulty, and it never occurs to us to suppose them meaningless ‘ink-blots’ at all. Not even highly abstracted imagery such as that in the Book of Kells.

    Why is that so? Internal evidence shows a high level of competence in the draughtsman, so we can rule out a child or an incompetent.

    We can also rule out some miraculously premature invention of ‘modern art’. It was only in the nineteenth century that western painters codified the elements which make western imagery legible, and then set out to break those conventions – hence cubism and abstractionism and so on.

    I do think that we find the Voynich imagery difficult to interpret, but not because it is ‘anyone’s guess’ so much as that it is intended to be read by conventions which are not identical to the western.

    Then the question is where do these stylistic habits come from?

    I won’t explain it – there seems little point in going over again all the comparative graphic and historical matter that I presented in a blog for almost five years.

    But none of this imagery is random in its meaning, any more than an image in a text produced in the western Latin or Byzantine or English or other traditions.

    ‘Bye all.

      • Thanks Elitsa,
        I do not feel discouraged. Though, I do believe it to be a good idea to listen carefully and value insights of people who have devoted more time to the topic than me, especially with more sophisticated background knowledge than I have. After all, that is the reason I have presented my questions here.
        What Diane implies incites my hunger to understand more.

    • “I won’t explain it – there seems little point in going over again all the comparative graphic and historical matter that I presented in a blog for almost five years.”

      Diane, is this information somehow available, or would you be willing to make it available to me?

  8. Daniel, sure –
    My serious blog is now closed, but you can write to me if you wish. You’ll find Contact details on a second blog which I made for light relief. (When we lose our sense of humour, we lose an essential perspective on the unimportance of what we do).That blog’s called ‘sidenotes to the Voynich – Postcards’.
    http://dnodonovan.wordpress.com/

  9. Hello,

    Sorry about my English…but I love VM and I want to explain my opinion about naked ladies.

    I think VM ladies have very fashionable 15th century`s females stance with arched back and swelling abdomen which doesn`t mean they are pregnant or overweight! Small breasts, arched back and beautiful swelling belly was considered as very very beautiful and very feminine at that time and emphasized by artists of 15 th century…
    For example look at Eve`s (virgin) stance and belly in picture of Limbourg Brothers “Garden of Eden” (year 1416)
    Limbourg brothers - Garden of Eden

    Of course it doesn`t explain meaning of ladies..but at least I want to say that they look at they best for 15 th century fashion and expression of beauty :)

  10. Leide
    The big difference is that Renaissance painting was portrait-like (tried to show ‘real’ looking people) and Renaissance pictures of naked females usually strive to present them with beautiful faces. The paradox of the Vms ‘ladies’ is that many have beautiful curves to thigh, back and/or belly (tho’ not all do), so the draughtsman was not incompetent at drawing. However the faces are not beautiful in that way we see in 15thC pictures. On the contrary they seem deliberately to be made otherwise, many being distorted and ill-proportioned.

  11. go to page 140 this is a picture of woman (women) standing in uterus/womb and also woman/women standing in ovaries –clearly he pictures the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus the three items hanging down would be colon/rectum area, womb, and urethra–although not connected as in picture-perhaps he was showing the layout of these items.on page 154-155 you have a picture of sperm/seed/or ancient symbol for son/child. the women in picture are showing different areas of labor pain- front, back side etc.  just a thought —that he is explaining the woman’s body and workings of it.
    I do not know any other language, but I believe that woman/female or a word for woman
    is somewhere on these pages –just a thought

    • also look at pictures on page 140 (in margins)–rt hand side are pictures of colon/rectum, pictures of bladder/urethra. on right hand side are a pictures of uterus/womb and crowning glory of birth–even with woman throwing up–

  12. Sorry Daniel I am not adding information but rather I have a question for anyone who might know:
    If this was a school journal and the author is a teen or older, what language would schools in the 1400’s most likely be taught in? Latin?

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