Late in 2008, Adam D. Morris emailed me to discuss his Voynich theory: that the VMs might have some connection with Hieronymus Reusner. Finally, I’ve got round to posting about it (sorry for the delay, Adam!)…

Adam’s jumping-off point was the visual similarities between the VMs and Reusner’s 1582 book “Pandora” (a version of the ‘Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit’, Book of the Holy Trinity) – colouring, faces, line-structure, etc. And so he wondered: might Hieronymus Reusner be (or be connected with) the author of the VMs? Or if not him, might it be connected to other Germans connected with him, such as Ulmannus or Franciscus Epimetheus? Additionally, manuscript copies of the “Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit” go back to 1415, so at what point did the drawings we see in Reusner’s Pandora take that general form?

Adam was also intrigued by Bachmann and Hofmeier’s (1999) “Gehemimnisse der Alchemie“, particularly the drawings of people and objects on pp.103-123 which he thought were reminiscent of the VMs.

Alchemy expert Adam McLean has also studied Reusner’s Pandora, and concludes that it is the coloured drawings in The University of Basel, MS L IV 1, UB (entitled ‘Alchemistisches Manuscript’) that were very probably “the original for the woodcuts in Reusner’s ‘Pandora’, rather than their being directly derived from an early manuscript of the ‘Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit’.

I dug up a couple of images from MS L IV 1, UB on the web: Figure 1 on this page, and Figure 1 on this page. The accompanying text dates the manuscript to 1550, which is a little late for the VMs, but (as I’m constantly reminded by others) not one the current fairly scratchy dating evidence definitively rules out. And, as always, the Basel Alchemistisches Manuscript might well have been copied from a yet earlier source – so there may well be a significant (probably German-language) literature on this manuscript which explores its visual roots. Let me know if you happen to find any of this!

As with a lot of VMs research ideas, what we have here is something and nothing all at the same time. Is a slim visual resemblance a convincing enough reason to spend a significant amount of time attempting to build a case for an historical connection? And (for example) might similarities in paint colour merely suggest that the VMs was repainted in Germany in the middle of the 16th century, rather than anything to do with its actual origin?

Perhaps the bigger problem with this lies with trying to shoehorn the VMs into some kind of alchemical tradition (at whatever date) is that nobody has yet presented any evidence that suggests any sustainable parallel (however fleeting) between the VMs’ drawings and any known set of alchemical drawings.

In the past, Voynich theorists have all too often used “alchemy”, “heresy”, “magic”, “necromancy” and indeed “conspiracy” as catch-all that’s-why-it-must-be-secret buzzwords: but the good news is that people are now starting to see that “why is it secret?” is the wrong kind of question (as per point 5 on the DIY Voynich theory list) to be starting from. Given that the forensics mantra is “forget about the whys, focus on the whats”, I believe that an essentially forensic approach is our only real hope of making progress.

And so I applaud Adam Morris for trying to follow the drawings (for art history surely aspires to be a forensic study of stylistics?), as this is arguably the most sensible route to take: but as he has found, it is a far harder path to follow than it at first seems. Good luck!

11 thoughts on “Hieronymus Reusner & the Voynich Manuscript…

  1. rene zandbergen on June 17, 2009 at 9:17 am said:

    I remember being fascinated by the ‘Buch der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit’. I once got a
    (very bad) photocopy of one plant drawing in the version referred to as the ‘London
    sketch book’, which had a striking resemblance to one of the herbal illustrations in the
    Voynich MS. There is very little about this particular MS on the web…

  2. infinitii on June 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm said:

    I tried looking more into this theory since I had e-mailed you about it, but didn’t find much more. However, I did find that there was a mention of a Martin Ruland in the dedication (or something) of one of the copies of the Pandora– I can’t recall the details exactly, but I think the implication was that he had been the guy who did the illustrations for it. There are two Martin Rulands (both physicians and alchemists)– the Elder, who is the one mentioned in the Pandora, and then his son the Younger, who interestingly enough eventually went on to become personal physician to none other than Rudolf II. I thought the possibility may have existed of the Voynich being in the Ruland family and making its way to Prague where it was found interesting, but I have no evidence of this.

  3. Ernest Lillie on June 18, 2009 at 9:44 am said:

    Much like Rene above, I too am fascinated by the “Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit”. My introduction to it came from the reproductions of several of its illustrations in Alexander Roob’s “Alchemy and Mysticism”. The various bizarre drawings and cipher grids had me looking in vain for a copy of the complete manuscript.

    Rene and others may be interested to know that there’s a complete facsimile of one copy (Cgm. 598 in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek of Munich) online here:

    The cipher grids mentioned in Roob’s book are located on images 009 and 177 (This blog is called “Cipher Mysteries”, afterall).

  4. Rene Zandbergen on June 19, 2009 at 8:19 pm said:

    Roob’s book also triggered my interest. I will try to make a scan of the bad photocopy
    I mentioned, and send it to Nick. Perhaps he can place it here.

  5. Hi Rene,

    If it’s in Roob’s “Alchemy & Mysticism”, I have a copy here (along with a copy of pretty much every other semi-related book under the sun) – just let me know the page number.

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  6. infinitii on June 20, 2009 at 5:30 am said:

    Funnily enough, my theory was born out of finding images of Pandora in Roob’s book (supplemented by the images in the Bachmann book)– also, I don’t think the image Zandbergen is talking about is in Roob, but I would be very interested in seeing the scan.

  7. Ernest Lillie on June 20, 2009 at 5:36 am said:

    Hello Rene.

    I don’t know if its the same plant you’re thinking of, but Roob’s book has a plate from “Buch der Heiligen Dreifaltigkeit” on page 462 showing a pair of plants — one bearing moons for leaves and the other bearing suns — with an androgynous figure standing between them.

    This image is page 220 in the Munich manuscript linked to above. I paged through to see if there were any other plant drawings within but found no others. There are, however, many other smaller figures not shown in the Roob book as well as a lot of figures showing alchemical glassware — none as ornate as those illustrated in the Voynich Pharmacology quire though.

    Note for Infinitii (from 2 above): I did a search through a few alchemy texts and found a listing for a book that may be of interest to you if you’ve not already found it:
    Martin Ruland(us): Lexicon Alchemiae sive Dictionarium alchemisticum. Frankfurt a. M., 1622. For translationb, see: A Lexicon of Alchemy. London, 1892

    P.S. — Nick, sounds like you have a library similar to mine. Are you familiar with the Art and Imagination series of books put out by the publishers Thames and Hudson? If not, I recommend that you look up a few of them.
    Imagine Roob’s book with a separate volume for each chapter. Their titles run to such subjects as Alchemy, Books of the Dead, Robert Fludd, Athanasius Kircher and The Tree of Life.


  8. rene zandbergen on June 21, 2009 at 6:18 am said:

    The plant image I was talking about is indeed the illustration of a moon plant, but it is
    not in Roob. I found it in a publication that I photocopied, and was from the London
    version of the book. “Londoner Kritzelbuch” if I remember correctly, but like I wrote,
    Google doesn’t return a lot on it.

  9. Rene Zandbergen on June 29, 2009 at 10:08 am said:


    the image is from MS Wellcome 164.
    As explained on the Wellcome website, usage of its illustrations is highly restricted!

    To view it, go to the Wellcome site and do a Reference search for MS.164

  10. Here I found a system of tubes and women bathing in the liquid coming from them – from the Ryland Library collection – alchemy subjects.

  11. Ellie: nice image, very 15th century. 😉

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