I grabbed a long-overdue day at the British Library yesterday. Apart from looking at Indian Ocean French pirate books (much more on which in future posts), I patiently worked my way through several thousand pages of the BL’s palaeography dating source books (most of which are on open shelves in the far end of the Manuscripts Reading Room, shelfmark MSS411.7), as I had intended to do back in 2009.

There were plenty of familiar authors’ names to keep me virtually company there – Charles Burnett, Malcolm Parkes, and Andrew Watson, to name but three – but in the end, it was just a matter of picking a date range (I chose 1400 to 1550) and ploughing through each book in turn to see what you find.

Palaeography dating books contain a long succession of images of manuscript pages (where the date of each image is known), usually arranged by date (though some have a miscellaneous section at the end containing images of handwritten pages whose date isn’t known exactly). Though some images have clearly been cherry-picked for their interesting content (e.g. nice marginal illustrations, ciphers, notable layouts, etc), there is rarely any more organization: the contents of the pages are a function not of any particular style but of the manuscripts the archives happens to have in them in that date range.

I went through the Swiss archives book set, the Austrian archives book set, and several of the 20+-volume Italian archives before running out of time. As you’d expect, much less than 1% was of specific interest to Voynich Manuscript researchers, but… I did find at least one thing that may well be worth looking more closely at.

Basel. Univ. Bibl. A X 132

In its section on Universitätsbibliothek Basel‘s manuscripts, Paul Oskar Kristeller’s “Iter Italicum” vol.5 says:

“A X 132. Steinmann, pp. 419, 457, 548. misc XV. Joh. Gualensis O.F.M., breviloquium philosophorum de virtutibus antiquorum principum (f.83). Vocabularius hebraico-latinus (202). Vocabularius graeco-latinus (220).”

Kristeller’s reference to (Martin) Steinmann appears to be to “Die Handschriften der Universitätsbibliothek Basel, Register zu den Abteilungen A I – A XI und O”, Basel, 1982: unfortunately, I ran out of time so didn’t get a chance to see this. But I did find the 1907 listing for the manuscript in Die Handschriften der Oeffentlichen Bibliothek der Universität Basel : Erste Abteilung : Die deutschen Handschriften : Erster Band : BASEL 1907″:

244 A. X. 132.
9. Johannes Gallensis, Breviloquium de virtutibus antiquorum principum et philosophorum.
Vgl. Histoire litter. de la France, T. 25, p. 182. Der Name des Verfassers findet sich in unserer IIs. im alten Inhaltsverzeichnis: a Johanni Gallensi editum.
Bl. 83v: Breuiloquium de virtutibus principum antiquorum et philosophorum. Quoniam misericordia et veritas custodiunt regem…
Bl. 101r Schi.: vbi vis permanere ego vita. Amen.
Completus est libellus de virtutibus principum et philosophorum Anno | a nativitate domini 1465 tercia die mensis septembris que | fuit dies martis

Hence the date that this section of the manuscript was completed was “3rd September 1465”.

And there is a mention in the handschriftencensus page to “Katalog der datierten Handschriften in der Schweiz in lateinischer Schrift vom Anfang des Mittelalters bis 1550, Bd. 1: Die Handschriften der Bibliotheken von Aarau, Appenzell und Basel, Text- und Abbildungsband”, Dietikon-Zürich 1977, S. 110, by Beat Matthias von Scarpatetti, which is where I found it.

It’s listed on Google Books: the text description of A X 132 is in section 296 of the “Text-” half of volume 1, while the handwriting is reproduced in Abb. 463 of the “Abbildungs-” half of volume 1.

Breviloquium de virtutibus antiquorum

Incidentally, Johannes Gallensis is one of the names that the thirteenth century Franciscan theologian John of Wales” was known by. His “Breviloquium de virtutibus antiquorum…” was a well-copied work: at least fifty copies are listed here, and there may well be many others.

But sadly…

Even though the handwriting we’re interested in runs from fol. 83r through to fol. 101r of Basel Univ. Bibl. A X 132, there are no images of this that I could find online at all, not even on the e-codices database doesn’t have a copy of in it.

And (worse) my mobile phone ran out of battery taking photos of pirate treasure books before I got this far. So all I can do for the moment is tell you about it rather than show it to you. But I thought you’d like to know anyway…

So: if anyone has access to a copy of “Katalog der datierten Handschriften in der Schweiz in lateinischer Schrift vom Anfang des Mittelalters bis 1550, Bd. 1: Die Handschriften der Bibliotheken von Aarau, Appenzell und Basel, Text- und Abbildungsband”, could I ask them to scan in a copy of Abb. 463 and email it to me? I’ll post it here as soon as I can, thanks very much!

15 thoughts on “Possible Voynich Manuscript handwriting match: Basel. Univ. Bibl. A X 132

  1. Nick, what feature in particular links this manuscript to the Voynich?

    Also, I suppose you saw the Guardian/Observer story about the 898 exact facsimiles of the VMS to be produced in Spain (with comment from Rene)?

  2. nickpelling on August 21, 2016 at 9:49 pm said:

    Philip: having just looked at several thousand examples of 15th century handwriting in the space of few hours, this manuscript was the only one of the lot that gave me any sense that it could have been written by the same person as the person who wrote the Voynich Manuscript. I plan to expand more on the comparison when I can put the two side by side in a blog post (hopefully in a few days’ time).

    The thing I gained most strongly from the overall exercise was a picture of the sharp division that typically held between humanist hands and normal scribal hands: and which is also why the Voynich Manuscript’s hand is best described as “humanistic”, i.e. it has elements of both at the same time, to the point that you might say it is a normal hand apparently informed or trained by the ductus traits of pure humanist hands. It’s a visual point that’s hard to explain verbally, let’s say. 😐

    As far as the Guardian/Observer story about the facsimiles goes: I was interviewed this evening by the BBC World Service for a piece the Newshour team are preparing for tomorrow morning. Naturally, my opinions ran counter to more or less everything that has been said in the media about the facsimiles, though how much of that will survive the editing process remains to be seen. 😉

  3. Nick – fascinating. Hope to see more. Interesting this connection to the Franciscans!

    One question – the date range that you have considered begins from a generation or so after the published radiocarbon date-range. Is there any chance that you might get time to try the same for the century before?

  4. Nick
    sorry – I misread your “1400” as “1480”.

  5. As regards the Guardian/Observer, I do wonder where the thousands per month quote came from 🙂

  6. Nick,
    Possibly co-incidental, but this theme of later copies made of works first written by thirteenth-century English monks or friars who had studied in France (and some also in Oxford) – just keeps cropping up.

    Hope you also find time to check the French and English samples – do you think you may?.

  7. Nick,
    sorry to hog these comments – but it may interest your readers and you I hope, to learn that this manuscript also includes the work of an Augustinian who (yep) was trained in Paris. One “Henry of Friemar” in English or Heinrichs von Friemar in his vernacular tongue.
    folios 228-236 according to
    Robert Glenn Warnock, Adolar Zumkelle (eds.), Der Traktat Heinrichs von Friemar über die Unterscheidung der Geister … (p.3)

    – it can be seen through G/books.

    “Henry of Friemar (c. 1285, 21 April 1354) was a German Augustinian theologian. He should be distinguished from Henry of Friemar “the Elder”. At an early age he entered the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine, and was sent to the University of Paris”. Wikipedia.

    Another one!

    may be of interest that part of the same manuscript copies

  8. bdid1dr on August 22, 2016 at 3:26 pm said:

    I guess I AM obsessed with B-408. I can’t seem to bring your attention to the Florentine Codex — written by Sahagun’s apprentices and also illustrated by the same apprentices.
    Professor Leon-Portilla has written volumes of international (world) history. He cites his references. I’m trying to remember the name of the university which was near the pilgrims progress toward boarding ships bound for the “New World” Salamanca?
    We have at least three sources of Sahagun’s work: His diary (the “Voynich). We have folios & portrayals of the everyday lives and work of the local inhabitants. Also in the Voynich (B408) are portrayals of bargaining (and people holding hands around a table…….
    Just about any item which appears in B-408 can be found in the Florentine Manuscript, and in Sahagun’s “Psalmodia”. I still 1-dr why there is so much circling around the contents of “B-408” — including Paula Zyatz’s apparent clulessness.


  9. Stefan Mathys on August 24, 2016 at 11:02 am said:

    Dear Nick, the manuscript department of the University of Basel does not allow visitors to photograph or scan manuscripts themselves, so I can’t be of help. But: they offer an online service where you can yourself order downloadable scans as either PDF or high resolution TIFF. The order form allows you to indicate the folios you want. The cost is CHF 8 base fee plus CHF 0.40 for each PDF scan (TIFF may be more expensive). Payment is by credit card. This is the link to the order form for AX132, i.e. the “Sammelband (Theologie), Thomas, von Kempen / Henricus, de Langenstein / Hugo, de Sancto Victore / Augustiner-Chorherrenstift St. Leonhard (Basel)”, within which folios 81v to 101r of Iohannes Gallensis are included.

    I hope this is helpful. Good luck with it!

  10. nickpelling on August 24, 2016 at 12:05 pm said:

    Stefan: thank you very much indeed, that’s very helpful indeed!

    Reading the UB’s terms and conditions, it seems that any copyright-free scans made will (after a “waiting period of three months”) be made available to “digital libraries operated or supported by [UB]” (I’m guessing e-codices etc), which is very good. However, do you think I would be allowed to post up the images here before that time?

  11. Stefan Mathys on August 24, 2016 at 12:15 pm said:

    Nick: to be on the safe side, why not write to hss2-ub@unibas.ch and ask them if it would be ok if you used the scans during the 3 month waiting period (as you won’t use the scans for commercial purposes, I’m sure they would be fine with it). Alternatively, you could post partial scans (not the entire images), or quality-reduced or watermarked images of the scans. That’ll do the trick as well.

  12. nickpelling on August 24, 2016 at 12:36 pm said:

    Stefan: I’ll drop them an email, it should (as you say) be fine. 🙂

  13. I hope it works, I must say I’m quite curious. I still haven’t made up my mind about the origin of the script (which might be a relatively late addition) so I’m hoping for some argument from someone to steer my opinion one way or another.

  14. Do you still need Abbildung 463 from “Katalog der datierten Handschriften in der Schweiz in lateinischer Schrift vom Anfang des Mittelalters bis 1550,” Band I? The book is in my university library, so it shouldn’t be hard to photograph and send to you.

  15. Paul: thanks very much for the offer but another kind soul has got there first! 🙂

    The problem I now face is that in order to sensibly post up anything on palaeographic matching, I have to precede it with a series of posts clearly laying out the different hands visible in the Voynich Manuscript, something which nobody has yet seen fit to do in the last century. *sigh*

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