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VMs: RE: Colored paints, touch-ups, and the michiton text

	Hi Jorge,

		The fact that the painter(s) coloured almost every herbal
with a fair degree of care, but got lazy and was more an impressionist
than worrying about the whole could simply mean that they had a 'style'
of their own. The art world is full of masterpieces that I'd never buy
and want to hang up on a wall; not to suggest that the painter(s) were
master craftsmen.

		The outline-font to me makes sense if you plan on filling
it in, as are the occasional touch-ups that you recognize as you are
flipping through the folio at a later date and notice you should have
highlighted a particular segment of text.

		The fact that plant colours aren't always perfect representations
of real-world plant colours isn't a strong argument, because the plant
are exactly perfect representations of real-world plants.

		I'm still willing to give our author credit for colourization of
his images because he has a particular bent toward the odd anyway.


-----Original Message-----
From: owner-vms-list@xxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:owner-vms-list@xxxxxxxxxxx]On
Behalf Of Jorge Stolfi
Sent: Thursday, July 01, 2004 1:52 AM
To: vms-list@xxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: VMs: Colored paints, touch-ups, and the michiton text


I have been looking at some of the new full-scale JPEGs from
Beinecke's site, as mirrored in
Here are some quick notes, in no particular order:

The colored paints are applied too carelessly. The outlines are
not masterpieces, but they were visibly done with substantial care and
effort. (Try to reproduce one herbal image and surely you will agree.)
In contrast, the colored paints are applied very coarsely, with broad
and simple strokes that often ignore the fine details of the outline
and leave plently of bald spots. So what could be a fairly elegant but
uncolored book has been turned into a kindergarten art class.

On the other hand, in some drawings the paint is much better
applied than in others.

In some pages, especially in the cosmo and zodiac sections but also
in the biological section, the colors seem quite arbitrary, as if the
painter was too lazy to change colors.

The painter had a fondness for painting things in alternate colors,
e.g. the red/green leaves of f4v and many, many more examples.
(Obviously this book comes from a planet orbiting a binary sun... 8-)

While in herbal pages the leaves are mostly green and the roots are
mostly brown/red, etc., there are many exceptions:

  On f28v one leaf is white, the rest is green.

  On f32r, the root is painted green.

  On f33r, the petals are green and white.

  The leaves of f38v are in three colors (gren/ocher/white).

  On f40v, the roots are bicolored (tricolored?).

  On f44r, the leaves are bicolored blue/green.

  On f50r and f56r, the leaves are blue-colored.

Most flowers are blue; no yellows, only a few red, none purple.

The red text in f67v1 used to be a strong argument for the red
paint (if not the other paints) being original. However, in the
full-res images, it seems to me that the text was originally brown,
like all other text, and was written over -- very carefully, for a
change -- in red.

Ditto for the two big red glyphs on f1v. It is very clear that they
were originally drawn with the common brown text ink, and were later
painted over in red. The bottom glyph at least seem to have been drawn
originally in "outline font" style, and filled-in with red. Ditto for
the red "2" at the upper right corner (which is now seen to be only
part of a half-erased symbol).

In the pictures that I have checked so far, the only paint which MAY
be original is a very light yellowish ocher, seen e.g. in the flower
bulbs of f4r or along the stems of f5v. That "paint" could be just
diluted brown ink. However there are other pics where a light brown
paint is applied just as badly as the other colors, so I will not bet
a single olive on that...

The colored scans also strongly indicate that many parts of the text
and drawings were completed or touched up at a later time:

  The zodiac names, e.g. on f71r, f72r are written in a different ink
  and thicker pen than the surrounding text. So that practically closes
  an old open question.

  Pages f72v3, f75r apparently had some lines touched up (darker ink).

  On f72v1, the crown (and cross) appear to be touch-ups, or even
  later additions! If that is confirmed, then the Christian imagery
  in the VMS is practically nil.

On f86v3, it seems that the scribbles are indeed scribbles, perhaps
by a young child.

Although the painter often left wide unpainted gaps next to the
outlines, he/she was apparently careful not to overrun the latter.

However there are a few cases where the color paint DID wash out or
cover up substantial parts of the outlines. The worst case I have seen
is f82v, where the big green splotch at the bottom of the page has all
but erased some detail inside the pond, which is barely visible in the
right half of the blob.  Some other cases:

  On f31r, the shape of the leaves is obliterated by the paint.

  On f35r, the leaf shape may be obliterated?

  On f35v, the leaf shape is obliterated.

More examples are in f99v and other pharma pages, where the color
paint almost erased the labels on some jars.

By the way, the example of f99v shows that the brown ink was fairly
water-resistant when it was painted over. I suppose that ordinary
tempera would probably wash out when painted over like that. So
perhaps the brown stuff is iron-gallnut ink after all, in spite of its
strange color.

The painted-over label on the leaf of f2r -- I hadn't noticed it before!
It was invisible in the copyflo, right?

In f1v, there seems to be a painted-over strange symbol
on a leaf, on the left side of the plant.

On f6v the blue paint turns star-shaped flowers (?) into round
balls. And the bottom flower is painted green, while the top ones
are blue.

Is the root of f27v a chinese ideogram? 8-)

I spotted several examples of plants with "topological" anormalities.
There are at least three "torusweed" plants whose stems have closed
loops -- f5v, f40r, and another one which looks like an egg beater or
whatever. The page with three crossed "carrots" has a leaf shared by
two plants, and on f50v, there are several flowers with a single fused

While painting quality varies somehow from page to page, the general
style is remarkably consistent over the whole book. It is also
remarkable that almost every illustration has some color paint. (That
cnstrasts with another colorized herbal I have seen on the net, where
the painter apparently got bored after a few dozen pages, painted a
few more (incompletely) here and there, then left the rest unpainted.)

The drawings on f116v are certainly by the same hand that drew the
zodiac pages, and the "michiton" text seems to be in the same ink,
pen, and hand as the drawings. Ergo, the "michton" text is very likely

Also the embedded EVA words "oror sheey" are written fluently with
sure hand, while the rest of the "michiton" seems to have been written
letter by letter with some effort. The simplest explanation seems to
be that the author of the VMS was not familiar with the Roman alphabet
(which also explains why he never used Roman letters in the whole
book, not even as item or figure labels). But of course there may be
other explanations (like the "copied upside-down" theory, or "atempt
to copy cyrillic longhand mistaken for Roman longhand", etc.)

My conclusion about the color paints:

I am now almost completely convinced that most of the colored paints
in the VMS are non-original. Because of the mistakes, bicolored
leaves, and the way the zodiac/cosmo pages were painted, I would say
that the painter was probably a kid; or two kids, one more careful than
the other.

However, the painter was not simply having fun with the VMS as if it
were a coloring book. Considering that the whole book was painted
over, that the plants were generally painted "naturally" (green
leaves, brown roots, blue flowers), and that outlines were hadly ever
painted over, I would say that the painting was purposeful and

My guess is that the book was originally unpainted, but some later
seller to whom the book was meaningless gibberish -- perhaps an
impoverished heir, a book peddler, etc. -- figured out that a colored
book would fetch a better price than an uncolored one. He would
have recruited a kid or two to do the painting; these kids would of
course have been told not to overrun the outlines, use green for
leaves, etc. -- but would have been left free to paint the cosmo and
astro sections at their pleasure.

  "You want to help mom? Here, why don't you take this book -- which
  poor uncle Jakub, may he rest in peace, was so fond of -- and paint
  all the pictures nice and good? But watch out, never paint over the
  lines, OK? After you finish we can go to the big town, to see the
  bad witches being burned. If you do a good job, maybe we can sell the
  book at the market for a shilling, and buy some honey cakes..."

All the best,


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