The Art of Darkness

Voynich Manuscript Online

January 4th, 2012 by Cobwebs

Voynich ManuscriptThe Voynich Manuscript has been described as “the world’s most mysterious manuscript.” It appears to date from around the 15th Century, nobody is sure where it came from, and and it’s written in an unknown language which has so far proved impossible to decipher.

Written in Central Europe at the end of the 15th or during the 16th century, the origin, language, and date of the Voynich Manuscript–named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912–are still being debated as vigorously as its puzzling drawings and undeciphered text. Described as a magical or scientific text, nearly every page contains botanical, figurative, and scientific drawings of a provincial but lively character, drawn in ink with vibrant washes in various shades of green, brown, yellow, blue, and red.

Based on the subject matter of the drawings, the contents of the manuscript falls into six sections: 1) botanicals containing drawings of 113 unidentified plant species; 2) astronomical and astrological drawings including astral charts with radiating circles, suns and moons, Zodiac symbols such as fish (Pisces), a bull (Taurus), and an archer (Sagittarius), nude females emerging from pipes or chimneys, and courtly figures; 3) a biological section containing a myriad of drawings of miniature female nudes, most with swelled abdomens, immersed or wading in fluids and oddly interacting with interconnecting tubes and capsules; 4) an elaborate array of nine cosmological medallions, many drawn across several folded folios and depicting possible geographical forms; 5) pharmaceutical drawings of over 100 different species of medicinal herbs and roots portrayed with jars or vessels in red, blue, or green, and 6) continuous pages of text, possibly recipes, with star-like flowers marking each entry in the margins.

Theories on its origin and purpose have ranged from “pharmacopoeia by Roger Bacon” to “hoax perpetrated by Wilfrid Voynich.” Nobody is sure what it is. (Of course, there’s always xkcd’s explanation.)

Happily, the Yale University library has posted high-resolution scans of the entire manuscript. In addition to simply being interesting to leaf through, the illustrations and text are a wonderful source of artistic inspiration. The letters have a delicate, Tolkien-esque feel to them, and the illustrations range from intriguing to really peculiar. And if you’re into cryptography, you can try your own hand at deciphering the mysterious text.

(via BoingBoing)

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