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!