It’s been a good while coming, but here it (finally) is: my page arguing for an earliest date for the VMs of 1440 (if Florence) or 1450 (if not).

Though it may not at first seem much of a conclusion, this is an argument based not on possibilities but on placing an artefact within an overall history of drawing technique – an argument about what the Voynich Manuscript actually is, and in which visual traditions we can place its drawings – a poster child for “Voynich Research 2.0”, in other words.

10 thoughts on “VMs parallel hatching / dating page…

  1. Rene Zandbergen on September 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm said:

    Hello Nick,

    I have actually been looking forward to more details about this topic.
    As I understand it, parallel hatching is to be understood as a technique
    of drawing parallel lines close together, in order to generate or suggest
    a grey tone. In the Voynich MS, I do more get the impression that the
    parallel lines are there to indicate ‘direction’ in a 3-D object.

    I think that your argument is valid, but it may depend on whether that
    distinction is relevant…

  2. Hi Rene,

    Put another way, it’s the use of fine parallel lines for whatever purpose that began circa 1440 / 1450: I wouldn’t like to get bogged down in issues of claimed intent when discussing the VMs. 🙂

    Oh, and don’t forget the element of scale – all the VMs details I showed are extremely blown up. Sometimes that gets lost when Voynich researchers spend a long time looking at scans. 🙂

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  3. Ernest Lillie on September 21, 2009 at 2:24 am said:

    Hello Nick.

    Thanks for finally putting this material together for us.

    I can sympathize with your desire to not “get bogged down in issues of claimed intent” with the Voynich illustrations, but it seems to me that a very important question that’s rather hard to dodge is: “Was the Voynich illustrator using parallel hatching to suggest shading or was he trying to depict actual physical details in his drawing — cliffs falling away in a ring around the Rosette tower or a fluted edge on the pharmacological jar?”

    Sorry if this makes me a contrarian.

    Best, Ernest

  4. Hi Ernest,

    I should say that the reason I don’t want to “get bogged down in issues of claimed intent” on this page, is that the whole point of the page is to put parallel hatching on the research agenda, not to close the book on it (just yet)… 🙂

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  5. Rene Zandbergen on September 21, 2009 at 8:32 am said:

    The Heidelberg manuscript CPG 3 dates from around 1400.
    As can be clearly seen in the online copy:
    several pages have drawings at the top with parallel hatching.
    The MS description does not indicate that these drawings would be later
    additions. I’ll see if I can find other examples.

    Cheers, Rene

  6. Hi Rene,

    For CPG3, many of the drawings at the top have a word added in a quite different (light, fine, mid-fifteenth century) hand from the (gothic, crabbed, medieval) one used to write the tables and the text – so I’m reasonably sure that these drawings are later additions (though a palaeographer would give a more definitive dating than this).

    Cheers, ….Nick Pelling….

  7. Rene Zandbergen on September 21, 2009 at 3:20 pm said:

    Hi Nick,

    first of all, I have no problem with the dating as such, but find it difficult
    to be sure that nobody could have come up with the idea of drawing
    parallel lines, before it became a feature in MS illustration.
    As a matter of fact, the Heidelberg MS CPG-330 from 1420 is full of
    parallel-hatching-like features…

    Cheers, Rene

  8. Hi Rene,

    As you describe, CPG 330 is indeed datable to between 1410 to 1420 (though if I have read the notes right, the other mss attributed to the same author seem to be clustered around 1420, hence the top end of the date range seems more likely), and I have no easy explanation for the presence of parallel hatching there, particularly on fol. 62r and fol. 99r.

    I would add that the literature on parallel hatching I relied upon here does seem rather steeped in the kind of Italianophily that reached its zenith (or do I mean “nadir”?) in Jacob Burckhardt, according to which Florence was the cultural centre of the world: and so finding parallel hatching in an earlier German document may ultimately point to its having having travelled in quite the opposite direction. 🙂

    Right now, this is a good find – but I don’t really know what narrative it is telling us. I suspect that there is enough meat here for some fastidious German historian to argue quite a contrarian case about the history of parallel hatching (and has this already been done?) After all, Master E.S. was (as I pointed out on the page) not Italian but German, so it would be fairly, errrm, natürlich to look elsewhere in Germany for earlier examples.

    Perhaps it will turn out that the dating will turn out to be: 1420+ (if Germany), 1440+ (if Florence), 1450+ (if elsewhere). But it is still a little early to say, I think.

    Cheers, …Nick Pelling…

  9. The parallel hatching would be a nice detail to narrow dating if you had already ascertained that the manuscript’s imagery originated with the fifteenth-century scribe. Until we know that’s so, or not so, the parallel hatching could have come with the original imagery: it’s a common enough technique elsewhere. I think you’d probably find it used in pottery decoration, and its quite a reflexive habit for a sculptor.

    Speaking of sculpture, has anyone commented before that a number of the motifs in the Voynich also occur in the metalwork etc. around the Madonna of Montserrat?

  10. Diane: the observation that using-parallel-hatching-to-achieve-a-midtone is not a common technique in early manuscripts is precisely what is interesting – this is the kind of detail that art historians tend to latch onto in order to weave their patient intertextual magic. The suggestion that in Florence it grew from niello technique is the narrative that the literature tends to repeat: but of course other reconstructive narratives are entirely possible. 🙂

    As far as the Madonna of Montserrat goes, do you happen to know when the surrounding iconification was executed? Though the Madonna herself is a lot older (12th century?), all the fancy stuff accreted around her seems much later… though how much later I don’t know. Also… I’ve just had a look through a good few pictures and can’t see any VMs-lookalike motifs. Do you have any specific examples in mind?

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