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VMs: Re: VMS rant
Where do you find all this information?
(1) I made a list of all the things that didn't quite ring true, or were
open research leads
(2) checked the comments in the merged .EVT file
(3) searched the VMS archives
(4) read a load of books
(5) asked a load of questions on-list
(6) developed some hypotheses & tested them... etc
But really, no tricks, no cards hidden up my sleeves! :-)
I get the feeling that the old-time
researchers have a hidden cache of old VMS information that's not published
anywhere or that is not easily accessible. There's no way the newcomers can
catch up with that.
I only started 10 months ago - whether that qualifies me as being an
"old-timer" is open to question. If I can do it, someone smart,
inquisitive, and persistent (like you) can do it too! :-)
I'd say the first key question is: what, of the stuff you've read, do you
The second key question is: what do you need to find out to propose an
But seriously - I've been doing some random research the last months. I've
had fun and I've learned a lot but haven't come up with anything really new.
Is this the way to go forward? What are the directions in which the old-time
researchers still expect some real progress?
*Every* direction. :-)
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.
I thought it might be possible to build a kind of profile of the VMs author
based on iconography and historic parallels. But the previous iconographic
research on the VMS is not readily accessible. And I find the search for
historic parallels quite difficult. I've now read books on Medieval and
Renaissance cosmology (Clavius), cartography, history of decipherment
(Kircher), botany, fortifications and while looking for the finials of the
castles I've even descended into antique ironwork. Of course I read about
iconography (Panofsky) and "outsider art". I've even re-read several
profiles of serial killers (Zodiac) to see how it's done.
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.
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.
IMO, the most likely page to have been copied was the "inverse spiral
leaves" page (as pointed out by Stan Tenen of the Meru foundation earlier
this year). This is most likely to have been copied from an Egyptian or
Arabic herbal (I saw some pages of an Arabic Dioscorides in an Islamic
pharmaceutical museum in Edirne in Northern Turkey last year, so these
definitely still exist).
The best parallels I've found are still Lambert of Saint-Omer and Opicinus
de Canistris. Unfortunately I can't readily demonstrate how relevant
Opicinus de Canistris is (he looks very relevant) because little has been
written about him. I will have to scan and post some pages from the original
German book to convince you ...
I've read about Opicinus de Canistris - but I have my own dating for the
But what if our author is inspired by popular culture and belief, and not by
"highbrow" scientific or theological culture? It will be difficult to get a
handle on that.
One modern type of historian looks at everyday social relationships very
much outside of courts - a good example is Peter Burke. Trying to
understand the social (and employment) nexus surrounding baths and spas in
15th Century Italy (specifically Romagna) is likely to yield insight into
the balneological pages - this is part of what I've been doing recently. :-)
In fact I'm looking for a list of essential secondary literature for the
VMS, to place it in a historic and cultural context. And I'm looking for a
timeline of the VMS in the general historic events of Europe, like the
invention of printing that we discussed before.
The VMS' time-frame is the worst possible for this, as it's a combination
of late Medieval and early Renaissance: so you'll need to read not only
about both, but also the overlap between them.
In many ways, I place the VMS as a medieval document - perhaps a compilatio
- 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.
G. Landini: The age of the manuscript is given as late 15th to early 16th
century, while others would not exclude the 13th or even the late 16th
G. Landini & R. Zandbergen: Most exerts believe ... sometime between 13th
century Roger (Bacon's times) and 1608 (when the manuscript was owned by J.
Carter: ... suggest ... that the manuscript is far later than the 13th or
14th centuries. There is nothing Gothic or angular about them.
Beinecke: Written in Central europe [?] at the end of the 15th or during the
16th [?] century
Only Carter's dating is based on iconography. The Beinecke dating is - I
suspect - based on historical circumstances like the Marci letter.
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 Cesare
Borgia's engineers in his siege of 1502. If (like me) you think this is the
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.
But be careful - the VMS is almost certainly a copy of a collection of
documents, not a single cohesive document. Therefore, individual originals
could be from various periods - the nymphs' hairstyles might be the best
way of dating those parts of the VMS, etc.
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 this
date they started to include elements of yellow. After 1500 or so, they
became "istoriche", with complex historical (and allegorical) designs.
Philip is right. But they are pre-12th century. Look at the picture of
numerals on Rafal Prinke's site hum.amu.edu.pl/~rafalp/HERM/VMS/dee.htm
Don't get me started on numbers! :-)
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... :-)
Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....