While browsing through the Whipple Museum’s interesting webpages on Regiomontanus just now, I was struck by a behind-the-scenes connection that might possibly lead to the source of some of the Voynich Manuscript’s images…
In 1465, Antonio Averlino (better known as ‘Filarete’) left Milan with a letter of recommendation from his friend Filelfo in his pocket, with the intention of travelling to Istanbul to work as an architect there. I have argued (from his defaced 1445 dedication on his doors on St Peter’s Basilica, see Curse p.120) that he travelled from there to Rome – it is hardly unlikely, particularly given that Vasari believed Averlino died in Rome 1469. Note also that that Averlino may well have accompanied Domenic Dominici (the bishop of Brescia) who took the beautifully-illustarted copy (now known as Vat. Gr. 1291) of Ptolemy’s Handy Tables from Brescia to Rome in September 1465 – this is the codex which Rene Zandbergen has strongly argued was some kind of visual source for the Voynich Manuscript’s zodiac ‘nymphs’.
Now… today’s particularly intriguing observation is that the highly influential astronomer / astrologer Regiomontanus (1436-1476) lived in Rome until 1467: between 1461 and 1465, he worked for Cardinal Bessarion at his palace (which was effectively a de facto Academy / humanities research centre), where he built astrolabes, sundials, etc for his patron.
What is relevant here is that Bessarion was born in Trebizond and was a sch0olfriend of Filelfo – and so it seems extremely likely to me that Bessarion would have been one of the key people Averlino would have planned to meet in Rome. It’s also important to note that Rome circa 1465 was not the sprawling metropolis it now is: a meeting would doubtless have been arranged.
So, if you accept that Averlino was in Rome 1465, and that he would have wanted to meet Bessarion, I think it is almost inevitable that he would have met Regiomontanus at some point. I have previously noted that Regiomontanus’ ephemerides (both in print and in manuscript, such as MS Prag 742) contained information connecting the stars with agriculture: and it is well-known that his tables also detailed appropriate positions of the moon for blood-letting. However, what is perhaps even more interesting for us is what he omitted from his tables (for that truly would be a secret), and which he apparently failed to complete before his relatively early death.
The data that was was missing was a special commentary (somewhat like a Director’s Cut?) on using astrology for medicine, for human births, and for foretelling the future. It seems seem extremely likely to me that this would have been based on the sign (and very possibly the degree) of the moon, and based on earlier (probably Arabic) works, probably via one of Pietro d’Abano’s manuscripts.
Could it be that the Voynich Manuscript’s zodiac pages, with their 30-item one-per-nymph datasets, encode the same data that Regiomontanus promised (but never delivered)? And might it have been that Regiomontanus got that per-degree data from Antonio Averlino in Rome around late 1465 – or might Averlino have instead got it then from Regiomontanus?
Of course, the spooky thing here is that this is basically what Steve Ekwall said was encoded in the zodiac nymphs. But you knew that already, right?
PS: did anyone ever find an online copy of Vatican MS 1906?