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VMs: Re: Inks and retouching
I'd like to see your work on "retouching" evidence. I still think there's
another answer, and I'm trying to find someone qualified to look into it.
As to the plumes, I've recorded each variation faithfully, as they are
important to the script, as important as other variations not usually
recorded in transcriptions. I'd like to know where you see "o"s and "a"s
altered. I've usually recorded these as "corrections" made by the author
himself. Not just the "o"s and "a"s, but several other glyphs clearly
This is an extremely important subject and I'm not taking it lightly. My
tests with quills demonstrated that when I applied too much pressure,
depending on which angle I was holding the pen, I got more ink flowing in
one direction, hence parts of a character being very dark or overrun with
ink, while the rest was lighter. Hooks, loops, and certain angular strokes.
The Voynich text is very small, and it's very difficult for me to write that
size with a quill, but I'm also convinced this was written by quill. Even
using Parker ink for the quill, the problem of drying makes writing several
lines at once without cleaning the tip a difficult task, and once the tip is
cleaned (by pressing the quill on a surface hard enough to open the groove)
the flow of ink alters somewhat as well. I'm obviously not experienced in
the usage of quills, am I? :-) I just wonder how much of this you're seeing
is a combination of the instrument and improperly mixed ink?
----- Original Message -----
From: "Jorge Stolfi" <stolfi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2004 6:29 AM
Subject: VMs: Inks and retouching
> > [Knox:] About converting to jpg, is there any advantage to having
> > a jpg the size of a sid rather than the sid, itself?
> Only that JPEGs are understood by most browsers, while SIDs are not.
> > [Nick:] For me, the initial question is whether we can demonstrate
> > whether any of the labels the Heavy Painter painted over had
> > already been retouched by the Retoucher... something to think
> > about!
> Yes, that is a good question. We *may* be able to answer it through
> color separation on the current SID images.
> It would be better if we had the TIFFs. The SID format (like the JPEG)
> adds small-scale noise that breaks the color algebra, so we have to
> work on smoothed (=lower resolution) versions of the images. Besides
> the TIFFs presumably include a greyscale calibration card. I am
> seriously tempted to fork US$ 30 for a couple of TIFFs, say of f1r...
> > [Jeff:] What if the 'retoucher' could read the manuscript? Then it
> > would not necessarily be the faintest characters that would need
> > retouching but the ones in the lines with the most interesting
> > content. This would give emphasis to the sections of more worth.
> One cannot be sure, of course, but the retouching seems to be too
> random to have been made for emphasis: a letter here, half a word
> there... And it does seem to be focused on the places where the
> un-retouched text is faintest.
> > [Glen:] Now you go and start attacking the text - something I
> > personally hold as gospel.
> Fortunately it seems that the Retoucher (unlike the Painter(s)) also
> had the same veneration for the text, and made an effort to preserve
> all details.
> For instance, there is lots of variation on the plume on EVA "sh" --
> long or short, curled back or almost straight, etc. From what I read
> here, it seems that most of us think that those traits are
> meaningless, just normal variation seen in anyone's handwriting. Yet
> the Retoucher apparently tried to preserve those details, by carefully
> retracing the old plume -- instead of drawing a new one in his own
> I believe that he *did* introduce some noise, by changing some "a"s
> into "o"s, "r"s into "s"s, etc. I owe the list a more detailed
> discussion, with examples, so that each one can decide for himself.
> Yet I think that, on the whole, we must be grateful to the Retoucher.
> Without his work, many parts of the text would have been unreadable
> by now. Morever he and the Painter made the manuscript more valuable,
> and probably saved it from being tossed away (or used for tinder,
> like Dee's Angel Diaries?).
> > [Glen:] We can split the colors now, so we've all become some sort
> > of epigraphic or forensic specialist? NOT! Be very careful on how
> > you interpret the data from your new-found toy.
> You don't need to tell me that, I am aware of all the difficulties
> you mentioned (and of several more that you didn't).
> However I do have some knowledge of the matter. My "real life" work is
> mostly about computer graphics and image processing, so I am supposed
> to know about colors and how they arise. Moreover my mother was an
> artist, and my father had a car body & paint shop; so I grew up
> playing with pens, brushes, paints, and inks of all kinds...
> > Tell me, was the VMS written with a stylus, or maybe a quill, or
> > maybe something different?
> With a pen, definitely -- you can see the strokes splitting into two
> tracks when the pen is running out of ink and/or being pressed harder.
> Assuming the writer was an European, it was probably a quill pen. But
> I suppose that a reed pen (as used by Muslim and Jewish scribes) would
> also produce that effect.
> I did not manage to make my own quill pen yet; but I made a couple of
> "reed" pens from bamboo twigs, according to recipes found on the web.
> They work but are rather fragile; I would not dare to press them so
> hard as to make the widely split strokes seen in the VMS. That would
> not be a problem for a quill pen, obviously.
> > What are the writing characteristics of each on vellum (our
> > medium), and how many VMS characters can each write before it
> > becomes necessary to re-ink?
> With the proper ink and pen, I would say "a few words". But it
> is quite possible that the VMS author's pen was not up to the
> standards of his time.
> Refilling used to be the explanation for the variations we have long
> seen in ink density, and indeed it is hard to disprove that
> explanation. We suspected retouching for a couple of years, since
> Beinecke posted the old color negatives; but until the new hi-res
> scans there was no good evidence of it.
> Besides a few places where the old strokes are clearly visible (like
> that one on f1r), there are many places where a "dark" letter, or only
> part of it, occurs alone in the middle of an otherwise "light" word.
> If refilling was the explanation, we would expect to see a "sawtooth"
> effect -- the ink gets suddently dark, then gradually light.
> Moreover, the color analysis results are quite consistent with what
> theory predicts for two inks of different color; and very difficult to
> mesh with the hypothesis of one ink applied in various thicknesses.
> (One would have to assume a highly "kinked" relationship between light
> intensity and pixel values, which the Beinecke scanner was designed to
> avoid and which would surely produce other artifacts that we don't
> > How often did each [kind of pen] need to be sharpened?
> I don't know, but my guess is at least several lines, possibly a page
> or more. How much can a quill pen wear down when dragged over soft
> leather? The quill material is flexible but fairly tough...
> > Is the vellum of the same surface and porosity throughout?
> Certainly not. In the new images, the lighting was from an angle,
> so the vellum relief and texture are fairly visible.
> One can see, for example, places where the writing has clearly faded
> more than elsewere, because a crease in the vellum made that part of
> the page stand out and hence be more exposed to rubbing.
> > When you can take a page apart and demonstrate each time the
> > author re-inked, you can continue to talk about "retouching",
> > though I'm certain this criticism won't limit your confidence
> > level.
> Well, the images are there, the arguments have been said -- each
> one of us can draw his own conclusions.
> > Let's talk about that ink for a bit - is it consistent throughout?
> As I mentioned recently, the "old" ink in some Zodiac pages seems
> quite different from the "old" ink in the herbal and other sections;
> and both seem different from the "new" ink.
> It is possible that the "old zodiac ink" is just a stain left by the
> ink's binding medium (e.g. oil) after the pigment proper flaked off.
> However I do not see that happening in other sections. Elsewhere, the
> old ink seems to fade away gradually, without leaving any stain
> > When the ink was made (presumably by hand and not by Parker's),
> > did the author always maintain a 50 micron particle size for each
> > component, or did his mixtures vary as much as his writing
> > instrument?
> The nature of the VMS inks are still quite puzzling. My guess (just a
> guess) is that the pigment in the old ink, at least in the herbal
> section, was ocher -- a common clayey mineral pigment used for paints
> and such, which seems to have just the right color.
> AFAIK, that recipe would be very unusual for a writing ink, but could
> explain why it faded so easily and washed off with water. (Standard
> iron-gall ink, from what I have read, was popular precisely because it
> was waterproof and rub-proof when applied on vellum.)
> Ocher would be bought by the pound, already in powder form; so it is
> quite possible that the pigment grain size -- at least -- is uniform
> throughout the book
> Judging frm its color, the "new ink" pigment could be a mixture of the
> "old ink" one and lampblack. If true, that would be an argument for
> the Retoucher being the Author himself. But that too is only a
> guess (not worth a pizza yet!)
> > Some of the paint particles at least can be seen under very low
> > magnification.
> The color paints certainly are highly varied, The handwriting expert
> already observed it in the 40's. The way they were applied varied a
> lot too.
> Many blues and greens, for instance, seem to have been painted by
> someone who was too lazy to clean his brush before switching between
> them. On other pages, the blue paint seems to have been applied with a
> stick, not with a brush.
> > Consider, when you sharpen a quill by hand, does it write exactly
> > the same afterward? [... long list ...]?
> Again, I am well aware of all those issues, and I do see many of those
> effects in the VMS. But I also see things that I can only explain as
> retouching -- lots of it.
> > BTW Jorge, where exactly do I have to travel to pick up that
> > Pizza, or is local delivery a viable option? :-)
> My son is now living in Boston, I suppose he could act as my
> representative -- he could call a restaurant near you and have it
> delivered. Or vice versa... 8-)
> All the best,
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