Google only finds about ten pages where Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501-1577) is linked with the Voynich Manuscript. Here’s a short research note to fill that gap…

If you look at Mattioli’s CV, you’ll see plenty of echoes with other people linked to the VMs. Though a renowned herbal compiler & writer in his spare time, he was also a physician to the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand II and to Emperor Maximilian II (who was, of course, Rudolph II’s father), which is broadly similar to both Hajek and Sinapius.

Brumbaugh once compared Mattioli’s famous 1544 herbal (the one that Hajek and Handsch translated in 1562/1563) with the VMs’ herbal drawings, and concluded that the two had (I think) at most one half of one plant in common. And so it seems relatively certain there is no connection: neither one is derived from the other, nor do both emanate from a common source.

Yet even though Rene Zandbergen avers demurs in this, I am quite certain (from closely examining it at the Beinecke) that the first word of the faded marginalia at the top of f17r has been emended from “melhor” to read “mattioli“. That is, a later owner (who was probably unable to read Occitan and French) misinterpreted the word as a garbled reference to Mattioli, and decided to correct it on the page.

Marcelo Dos Santos’ page on f17r (in Spanish) mentions much of this. He also mentions Sean Palmer’s assertion that the waterstain on f17r must have happened after the f17r marginalia were added, but before the f116v ‘michitonese’ marginalia: but no, sorry, I don’t accept that idea at all. If you look at the following pages, you can see where the waterstain fades away: it’s a localised piece of damage.

Marcelo also pulls down my suggested link with fennel for the picture on f17r (the one with a pair of “eyes” in the roots): yet he seems not to grasp that there the herbal literature of the late Middle Ages / Renaissance repeatedly connects fennel with eyes – finnochio / occhio in Italian, but similarly in Occitan and other languages. Oh well.

My fellow Voynich old-timer Jan Hurych has long been interested in various Prague-linked research strands: after all, Prague was home to the first three properly-documented owners of the Voynich Manuscript (Jacobus de Tepenecz, Georg Baresch, and Johannes Marcus Marci), as well as its most illustrious claimed owner (Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II).

It is certainly true that Rudolf’s interests and obsessions acted as a powerful magnet to draw wonders from all over Europe to his court. Yet given that the claimed link with John Dee and Edward Kelley is gossamer-thin, it is no less sensible to wonder whether the VMs had been brought to Prague by someone from the town: perhaps someone well-travelled?

I mentioned Rudolf II’s manuscript-collecting astronomer / astrologer / herbalist / physician Tadeás Hájek here recently (who studied in Italy), but Jan Hurych regales me with tales of several others: for one, Hájek’s father (Simon Baccalareus) studied alchemy and collected manuscripts… though what happened to his library after his death is not currently known.

Jan has put together a nice page on one of his favourite Renaissance Czech travelling knights, Krystof Harant de Polzic and Bezdruzic, and his travels from Venice to Crete to Cyprus to the Holy Land to Egypt (etc). But I have to say that if a writer had picked up an intriguing cipher manuscript on their travels, it would be one of the first things they would write about: yet there is no mention. So we can probably rule Harant out, sorry Jan. 🙁

But Jan brings up a rather more full-on Czech Voynich theory, courtesy of Karel Dudek’s Czech webpage (though I used Google Translate, Dudek also put up his own English translation here). Dudek discusses Georg Handsch of Limuz (1529-1578), whose 1563 German translation of Mattioli’s Latin herbal came out a year after Tadeás Hájek’s Czech translation (it even used the same nice woodcuts!) Like Hájek, Handsch was a physician living in Prague, but whose main client was instead Ferdinand II Tyrolský (1529-1595) and his wealthy wife Filipina Welserová (1527-1580).

Dudek got his information from Leopold Selfender’s “Handsch Georg von Limuz – Lebensbild a Arztes aus dem XVI.Jahrenhunderts”: but after a bit of a false start (linking Handsch directly to Baresch, which I doubt would convince anyone), he proposes a possible chain of ownership from Handsch -> Welserová -> Ferdinand II Tyrolský -> Rudolph II -> Jacobus de Tepenecz, before Tepenecz’s estate got looted in the chaos of 1618 and the manuscript somehow ended up with Baresch (with the signature erased).

OK… but why Handsch? Dudek points to the VMs’ botany, and Handsch’s translation of Matthioli’s herbal (though I’d have to say that Hájek fits that bill even better). Dudek also discusses a book by Handsch based on his trips to visit medicinal baths and spas in 1571 called “Die Elbfischerei in Bohmen und Meissen” (eventually published in Prague in 1933), and sees parallels with the VMs’ water section there.

But Dudek gets even more speculative, talking about whether Bartoloměj Welser was financed by Charles V to undertake a (possibly Lutheran?) mission to South America, and drew pictures inspired by exotic plants he saw beside the Orinoco (hey, I thought he was a Womble?)

It’s a good story, but a little lacking in connection to the VMs: and doesn’t really explain why we see (for example) 15th century handwriting in the quire numbers, or even the Occitan-like month names on the zodiac, etc. Perhaps we should really admit that looking for an origin for the VMs in Prague may be a little too hopeful, not dissimilar to the way 19th century German historians’ looked to see if Nicholas of Cusa might secretly have been some kind of Teutonic Leonardo. Nice try… but no cigar.

Here’s a little piece of Voynichiana pinging on the edges of the VMs research radar, concerning Tadeáš Hájek z Hájku (1525-1600), who I thought had not to date been speculatively linked with the VMs. It came from the text accompanying the “Earth and Sky: Astronomy and Geography at the University between the 15th and the 18th centuries” exhibition at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest in 2005, but also (mostly) reappears in the Wikipedia page. (Which came first? I don’t know!)

Why flag Hájek at all? Jan Hurych once put up a page on him on his Hurontaria site, but (I thought) only as a piece of background research data. It’s true that as personal physician to Maximilian I (in Vienna) and to Rudolf II (mainly in Prague), Hájek would have vetted or commented on anything alchemical, astronomical, astrological or medical entering the Imperial Court prior to 1600. But might there be more to it?

If (as I do) you see a Northern Italian art history link in the VMs’ drawings, then Hájek’s Prague-Bologna-Milan-Prague travels probably jumps out at you too: so, please go on…

In the words of The Joker, “I like him already“. But, errrrm, what about the VMs, then?

[…]Hájek eagerly collected manuscripts, especially those by Copernicus, and may have been the one to convince Rudolf II to procure the infamous Voynich manuscript. […] Throughout his life he also published numerous astrological prognostics in Czech and that is why he was until recently viewed as an „occultist” rather than a great scientist.

I think we can safely say that, apart from the absence of any actual evidence, Hájek is a great candidate manuscript carrier to add to the Voynich story, far better than Dee and Kelley. And what would make it even more poignant is that the pair of them visited Hájek’s house in Prague, which was (according to a fascinating 1999 post on by Michael Pober) “‘by Bethlem’, first mentioned in “A True and Faithful Relation’ p. 212, Prague 1584, 15th August.

Might Hájek have owned the VMs, perhaps buying it during his time in Italy? It would be interesting to see his handwriting and marginalia commentary style, just in case there’s some kind of unexpected link between that and what we see in the VMs. I’ve asked Jan Hurych, but he hasn’t examined Hájek’s handwriting: so I’ll have to pursue this with the Czech libraries myself (more on that soon).

Given that Hájek translated Mattioli’s famous herbal into Czech, it is certainly interesting that the marginalia at the top of f17r appears to have been miscorrected to read “mattior”. I had always guessed that it was George Baresch who had done this – but perhaps it might have been Hájek instead? Something to think about, anyway…

“Hájek was in frequent scientific correspondence with the recognized astronomer Tycho and played an important role in persuading Rudolf II to invite Brahe (and later Kepler) to Prague. His voluminous writings in Latin were mostly concerned with astronomy and many regarded him as the greatest astronomer of his time.”


“In 1554 he studied medicine in Bologna and went to Milan the same year to listen to lectures by Girolamo Cardano, but he soon returned to Prague, where he became a professor of mathematics at the Charles University of Prague in 1555.”