The Crossbow

The Sensfelder article about the Sagittarius crossbow

In late 2003, Jens Sensfelder, a German expert for medieval arms, wrote a short analysis about the crossbow depicted on the Sagittarius page f73v of the VM. It never really got published, AFAIK, but the analysis is of interest, because it gives us some hints about a possible dating of the VM.

The link below guides you to Nick Pelling’s site, where you will find the analysis in full length.

Click here to read the article!

This is the image in question:

The "crossbow archer", f73v (detail)
The “crossbow archer”, f73v (detail)

You can check it out in context on Jason Davies’ Voyager site.

12 thoughts on “The Crossbow

  1. Hi again. Sorry to keep butting in, but after reading the link to the crossbow article above I felt that the ‘analysis’ is too ‘close up’. What I mean is, whoever wrote and drew the Vms was not an artist, that is obvious from the quality of the drawings, so to look so close up at the drawings, at the very fine details,to hope to date what is drawn seems a bit overdone- the guy ( or gal ) just wanted to depict a crossbow to convey the idea of ‘Sagittarius’ or whatever he had in mind, I really don’t think he was interested in creating a ‘photo’. It seems a bit like getting a plumber to do a rough drawing of his job to convey a concept to someone else and then say, well they’re not copper pipes because copper pipes would be shinier!!

  2. Hi Michelle,

    I agree with you partly. One shouldn’t overemphasize the design of the crossbow drawn, especially considering that it’s less than an inch or so across. OTOH, probably the artists didn’t mean to draw one particular crossbow, but the “archetypical” crossbow per se of his time. So even this sketch will probably give us at least a hint of the date of them VM, much like a machine gun with a drum magazine would enable us to tentatively date a picture to the first half of the 20th century.

    OTOH, Jens’ dating and the find of this costume seem to support each other and are in agreement with the Carbon dating.

  3. I see what you mean and I’m only a novice at this ( I haven’t even read Nick Pelling’s book yet!) Has anyone made out what’s going on around the archer’s feet?
    With regard to drawings in general, they really are pretty rough, or did women in the 15th Century ( or whenever) only have 3 fingers!
    I have a feeling that an artist like Filarete would have produced something better though.

    1. The scrawl at the Sagittarius’ feet is probably a label which reads “December”; all the zodiac medallions all carry labels with the name of the month which is astrologically assigned to the respective sign, and Sagittatius’ month is December. (In some of the other zodiacs it’s much more obvious.)

      Apparently, the labels are written in none of the straightforward idioms one would expect (latin, german, english, french,…) , but are of a french/spanish “dialect”, or otherwise slightly garbled. There is good reason to assume that they are a later addition to the VM.

      (As regards Filarete’s artistry: Walt Disney was surely no dilletante, but did you ever count Mickey Mouse’s finger…? ;-)

  4. In measures traditionally used at sea, the measure was the finger. These days it is known to the west mainly through Arabic-language sources. There is a distinction: one system measured 2 degrees to the ‘isba (finger), but correctly it was one-and-a-half degrees. The same system may have applied to sidereal surveying, but in general the methods declined as use of the magnetic compass increased. Europeans came so late to deep-water sailing that most never knew how to manage without artificial aids, so never learned the methods. But then again, the imagery suggests the Voynich ms isn’t a work created in Europe, or for Europeans.

  5. correction – the content isn’t a product of European medieval culture, nor was it intended… etc.

  6. Apologies for not explaining in the previous posts that I was referring to the system for dividing the outer rings of these roundels – the number of ‘barrels’ they contain.

    A survey of things like imagery of crossbows, or of costume, is only relevant if the survey looks outside, as well as inside, the period and place of interest. To offer a simile: it is like trying to define an apple by comparing it with three other apples. For a true like-ness to be defined, one has to compare with external examples. And that’s where the analysis falls down. The crossbowman here *could* be a 15th-C modernisation of an older picture, or it could be a literal representation of an Illyrian crossbowman of the late classical period. Crossbows were known and used no later than the 1stCAD, and the costume is that traditional among the Illyrians, as we know from extant representations. Like the later Genoese (the earliest westerners associated with use of the crossbow) the Illyrians were a sea-going people, and the evidence suggests that in the Mediterranean, the crossbow was originally a weapon used by marines. That fifteenth-century Italians took to wearing similar hats and ?skirts, and to using the crossbow tells us no more than that the style would have been familiar to fifteenth century Europe, not that the crossbow, or that costume originated there. It does nothing to help us limit the period when the *content* of the ms might have been first composed.

  7. Elmar – very sorry about the tone of the previous post. Just a general frame of mind, you know… and more due to the manuscript’s intransigence than any comment you’ve made.

    It’s Like… how *dare* this manuscript be so impossible to understand… and *allll* the time.. most manuscripts are described, filed and catalogued within no more than a couple of days. So after three and a bit years, I feel like biting the thing sometimes.

    But I believe that we are getting there, slowly. Just the way that the information in this book made its way back slowly westwards, to wherever the 15thC copy (and before that the 13thC copy etc.) was going to be made.

  8. I concur with you part of the way. One shouldn’t overemphasize the outline of the crossbow drawn, particularly recognizing that its less than an inch or thereabouts across.but I accept that we are getting there, gradually. Just the way that the qualified information in this book made its route back gradually westwards.

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