The recent Austrian Voynich documentary gave a nice clear radiocarbon dating (1404-1438 at 95% confidence) for the vellum, and finished by suggesting (based on the swallow-tail merlons on the nine-rosette castle) a Northern Italian origin for the manuscript. But I have to say that as art history proofs go, that last bit is a little bit, ummm, lame: it’s a single detail on a single page, that might just as well be a copy of a previous drawing (or a drawing of a description, or an imaginary castle) as a real castle.
Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of sensible art history reasons to suspect Northern Italy 1450-1470, for example:-
- Swallow-tail merlons on the nine-rosette castle are reminiscent of those on many Northern Italian (and Southern Italian, too) castles of the 14th and 15th centuries
- The rendering of the sun faces on f67v1 and f68v1 are reminiscent of the Visconti sun raza, most notably as per in the Milan Duomo’s “Apocalypse” apse window (1420), so arguably point to a post-1420 dating
- Voynichese seems to be a more advanced version of those ciphers in Sforza / Urbino cipher ledgers that have the same verbose ‘4o’ character pair
- Handwriting is strongly reminiscent of Milanese “humanist” hands circa 1460-1470
- Dots on ‘pharma’ glassware (f89r1 and f89r2) are strongly reminiscent of post-1450 Murano glass decoration
- Decoration on barrels / albarelli is most reminiscent of 1450-1475 Islamic-influence maiolica
- The kind of baths apparently depicted in the balneo quire became most fashionable in Italy between 1450 and 1490
- The costumes and hair styles of the many Voynich ‘nymphs’ have been dated as belonging to the second half of the 15th century (and typically dated later rather than earlier)
- Parallel hatching only appeared in Florence in 1440, and in Venice (and elsewhere in Italy) from about 1450 onwards, before giving way to cross-hatching from about 1480 onwards.
But Northern Italy 1404-1438? Actually, apart from the first two above (which I have to say are probably the least persuasive of all), the evidence falls away to almost nothing, rather like an oddly disturbing dream fading away as you wake up in the morning.
But what about Germany circa 1404-1438? After all, Erwin Panofsky thought a German origin most likely (though perhaps he took a little bit too much notice of Richard Salomon’s readings of the marginalia), and there’s a touch of Germanic influence in the “augst” marginalia month name for the Leo zodiac page. Others have suggested Germany over the years, most recently Volkhard Huth (though I somehow doubt it’s Jim Child’s pronounceable early German, or Beatrice Gwynn’s left-right-mirrored Middle High German, while Huth’s 1480-1500 dating now seems a little adrift as well).
Art history links with Germany are thin on the ground in the Voynich Manuscript: it’s a (very) short list, comprising the general stylistic similarity between the VMs zodiac’s central rosettes and early German woodblock calendars, and the recent (but very tenuous) cisioianus comparison with f67r2: Panofsky also pointed to Richard Salomon’s reading of some clumps of marginalia as German, and to the fact the VMs eventually surfaced in Prague… but this is all pretty optimistic (if not actually hallucinatory) stuff. Basically, you’d need to do a lot better than that to build up any kind of plausible case. (Though I don’t know if Volkhard Huth added any new observations to this list).
But one thing that emerged since I wrote my parallel hatching history page is that the technique actually seems to have emerged in Germany before it appeared in Florence. I mentioned that there was a German master engraver known as “Master E.S.” (also known as the “Master of 1466”), who produced a number of hatched and cross-hatched pieces in the period 1450-1467: and I was content with the generally accepted art history notion that the technique probably spread northwards from Florence to Venice and Germany at roughly the same time (i.e. 1450).
However, the problem with this presumed ‘Italy → Germany’ model is that there was another German engraver (“Meister der Spielkarten”, “The Master of the Cards“) who was active (1425-1450) a generation or so before Master E.S., and who includes fine parallel lines in his work, most notably in the oldest known set of copperplate playing cards (1440). Anyone who wants to read up on this should probably rush to get themselves a copy of Martha Anne Wood Wolff’s 1979 Yale PhD thesis “The Master of the playing cards: an early engraver and his relationship to traditional media”. (Please let me know if you do!) Alternatively, you might well find things of interest in Martha Wolff’s paper “Some Manuscript Sources for the Playing Card Master’s Number Cards” , The Art Bulletin 64, Dec. 1982, p.587-600.
Of course, I don’t think for a moment that The Master of the Cards’ clear line and nuanced material rendering has anything directly to do with what we see in the VMs. Rather, it just seems worth noting that the existence of parallel hatching in the VMs is consistent with a post-1420 origin if German, with a post-1440 origin if from Florence , or a post-1450 origin if from elsewhere.