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VMs: Re: VMS Rant (long)

> Jorge - stop shredding those old manuscripts you've been hiding with the
> missing VMS pages! How else could you have implanted Mickey Mouse onto a
> Progress? What a concept. Directions - another great concept.
> Remember, everyone - this is a hobby!

Before anyone starts to take this too seriously I'll publish my answer to
Nick's excellent reply. See below. I don't suspect anyone of any conspiracy
and I agree completely that it's a hobby. But when I see that I've been
re-inventing the wheel then clearly I am wasting our time. This is slightly
frustrating and if possible I would like to avoid this. So "directions" are
welcome ...

(What is even more frustrating is that sometimes interesting information is
mentioned in the archives but is not available anymore - like the color
reproductions of f86, or Panofsky's notes on the VMS).

I would very much like to avoid the avenues of research that have been
exhausted. Looking trough the VMS archive I (imagine to?) see a trend away
from cryptography and towards iconography and historic context. I have a
feeling that the most direct attacks at the VMS have been tried and found
unfruitful (decryption, plant-determination etc.). So maybe a detour -
exploring the possible cultural contexts of the VMs - may still yield
something. I'm very sympathetic towards the avenues that Nick Pelling is
exploring (beauty books, maiolica, spa's etc.). Another one I like is the
search for documents that could shed light on the provenance of the VMS. So
I see several fruitful directions, but I don't expect any breakthroughs.

*** Reply to Nick ***

Thanks for your mail. It helps me to put my difficulties in perspective.
In fact, it's such a nice summary you should send it to the list!
If you send your mail to the list I will also send this answer.

> (4) read a load of books

I would be interested in the ones you think are essential. I'm still looking
for good secondary literature to put the VMS in a proper cultural context.

> (6) developed some hypotheses & tested them... etc

The difficulty is that many hypotheses are difficult to test. Take for
example the geographic provenance of the manuscript. The castles point to
Northern Italy - the Alpine regions. That's what I conclude from the
combinations of Ghibbeline merlons & high angle (slate?) roofs with finials.

My impression is that Italian castles have mostly flat or low-angle roofs
(ceramic tiles). To test this hypothesis I would like to find a book on
Medieval roofing technology. But all the books about castles are concerned
with the defensive architecture and not with the roofing. And information on
finials is even rarer, the closest I came were weather-vanes.

> I'd say the first key question is: what, of the stuff you've read, do you
> *least* believe?

> Whether a deliberate feature of the author or not, I think you're quite
> unlikely to find direct parallels with other documents - though that's not
> to say that this is impossible.

What I least believe is that the VMS is an entirely unique artifact.

Even a hoaxer must have left traces of his cultural background and it should
be possible to profile him on the basis of this information. But at the
moment I'm wondering if an amateur like me can collect enough iconographic
insight to reach any valid conclusions. What's frustrating is that there
seems to be much more information of the cryptography and botany of the VMS
than on the general iconography.

> The second key question is: what do you need to find out to propose an
> alternative?

I need more data on popular culture of the 14th and 15th century. Especially
medicinal books, calendars and prognostics. I need data on the spread of
early printed books. I need access to ugly and ordinary manuscripts and
notes made by students.

> Anything that can date or locate the VMS tightly would be a great first
> step, whether that's from physical evidence or by other means.

Agreed. And when I read in the archive that there exist unpublished notes by
Panofsky concerning the VMS then I would dearly want to read them.

> It's (pretty much immediately) clear when you compare the VMS' herbal
> section with other herbals that it's "not cut from the same cloth" - and
> the same holds true of most of the rest of the VMS.

If we can demonstrate that the weird plants are combinations that have been
combined from some existing sources then we will have our first victory.

What I don't believe is that the plants have any botanical meaning in
themselves. They may be made from combinations of real existing plants but
they're too weird to be simply distorted. Once I even thought that the
person who drew them must have *hated* plants. No one who likes plants would
make them so misshapen, especially the roots.

If the VMS is a hoax by a 16th century scientist trying to make a 14th
century book then I would give up the struggle. "What would a 16th century
person know about 14th century science and iconography?" I don't think an
amateur can get a handle on that.

> I've read about Opicinus de Canistris - but I have my own dating for the
> VMS. :-)

OK, but wouldn't you agree that his profile - a middle class person seeped
in the culture and knowledge of his time making a unique original
combination of his un-original intellectual baggage - is the closest one
that we've found yet? Opicinus started out with an illustrated manuscript
that might have been meant as a present for the higher clergy in Avignon.
But in the course of his project he incorporated so much personal
information, thoughts and speculations (among others speculating on what he
might do if he became pope and making links about his own sinful nature and
the coming of the antichrist) that the whole thing became un-publisheable
and maybe even dangerous.

Do you have the feeling that the VMS was made for public or private use?

> In many ways, I place the VMS as a medieval document - perhaps a
> - in a kind of time-capsule at the end of the Middle Ages, with the
> Renaissance surrounding it, threatening to destroy it... almost as if it
> used all the wiles and guiles of Medieval ciphers and codes to hide the
> secrets of the middle ages, against the tide of history.

Well said!

> The Rocca Sforzesca in Imola had two demilunes (AKA mezzaluna) added on
> adjacent sides in 1472-1474, but one of them was mostly destroyed by
> Borgia's engineers in his siege of 1502. If (like me) you think this is
> castle depicted in the VMS, then it's hard not to see these two dates as
> being the lower and upper bounds for this part of the manuscript.

If - like Opicinus - this was a strictly private project then most likely
the manuscript only became public after the author's death. So the
manuscript might have been made in 1472-1502 but maybe came into circulation
after 1550.

> But be careful - the VMS is almost certainly a copy of a collection of
> documents, not a single cohesive document.

It could be domonstrated by statistical analysis. If this hypothesis this is
true then the statisticians should look for the well-known errors that can
be made in copying texts:
But this hasn't my greatest interest, yet ...

> For example: I also date the designs on the short maiolica tubes (in the
> astrology section) to round about 1470 or so - maiolica before this date
> often had geometric (Islamic-style) monochrome blue designs, but after
> date they started to include elements of yellow. After 1500 or so, they
> became "istoriche", with complex historical (and allegorical) designs.

Very interesting observation!

> I'm sure that the VMS' foliation is Edward Kelly's and its quire markings
> are John Dee's - though I can't prove this... yet... :-)

Aaaargh! As yet I have not been convinced about *any* link between those two
shady characters and the VMS. Then I'd rather follow the hypothesis that VMS
= Necronomicon :-)

Petr Kazil - Urban Adventure in Rotterdam