VOYNICH NOW AND THEN.
Commentary to the Article of
in "The Transactions of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia", Vol.33, 1921.
Jan. B. Hurych
Recently, I had an opportunity to review the above article and compare what was written there and what we know today. For almost one hundred years we now still base the VM provenance on the statements made by Mr. Voynich (WMV for short). True, some of them hold today, the others were time by time corrected or modified. The comments here should not be taken as a criticism of Mr. Voynich - he surely did the great job - they are just listed to direct the readers to other possible options. The comments are ordered and the pages of the article are listed as well.
1 - (Page 415) There WMV claims he found the VM in the "ancient castle" with other manuscripts embellished with the "arms of such personages as duke of Parma, Ferrara and Modena". Further he suggests the VM manuscript was owned by the House of Parma. In comparison, his private letters indicate the place of purchase was actually Villa Mondragone, certainly not a castle (more to it later). True, WMV had correspondence in private with Mondragone padres, but how do we know they are really talking about our VM - there are no names like Kircher, Marci or detailed description of the manuscript mentioned. That he bought some manuscripts there is without question but was the VM among them? We may suspect that he was right first time: even Newbold in his book says that WMV found it in the castle and he went even further quotes him as saying "the Austrian Castle" while Voynich in this article states clearly "in Southern Europe" (see also point 14).
2 - (Page 416) WMV admits that the idea of Roger Bacon popped in his mind even before the further examination of the VM was made, just based on the estimated time of the origin which he guessed was "the latter part of the 13th century". He discards off hand Albertus magnus and claims the author was none other than Roger Bacon. We know of course that the name of Roger Bacon is mentioned in the Marci's letter that accompanied the VM so he could have learnt it without too much trouble from there. So it looks rather strange that WMV claims that "it was just some time after the purchase" that he read Marci's letter inserted in the manuscript. It seems to us as probable as if somebody gets a book as a birthday gift and he does not read the card that goes with it. Of course he justified it by the fact the letter was dated 1665 (or 1666), too late for Bacon, therefore he considered it to be of no consequence. Imagine the unknown manuscript without any references except for that letter attached to the front cover - as he claimed - and it did not immediately raise his professional curiosity? There is of course one explanation why he noticed only the date there but did not read the content: the letter was in Latin and he might have been waiting for the exact translation (by the way, the article does not mention who did the translation).
3 - (Page 416) In the note (1) at the bottom of the page WMV explains that he was not revealing the location of the castle since he wanted to buy the rest of the collection later. We can wonder if that was the only reason - for instance, exporting the manuscripts from Italy was at that time conditioned by government permit (which might not have been granted and besides, the letter once belonging to Athanasius Kircher (plus the manuscript no doubt) should have been offered first to Museo Kircheriano as a part of its collection of letters and not to foreign antiquarian. But was it really?
4 - (Pages 417, 418, 419) WMV claims Marci joined Jesuit Order several months before his death while some other Czech sources claim it was "on his deathbed". It seems to be that the event at the deathbed was documented and the persons present as well. They were mostly Jesuits and Marci was already totally blind - how could he know what he was signing?
On the other hand, he might have applied for acceptance several months before his death - it was certainly not a simple procedure. Of course the application might have been prepared by padres ahead of time, without his knowledge, as a surprise. After all, he spent most of his life his life with Charles University fighting its Jesuit takeover. Another interesting point there: WMV claims the first catalogue of Museo Kircheriano was made in Amsterdam in 1678: who made it if not Kircher himself? (Kircher died two years later, in 1680). The VM is not listed there or in any other later catalogues, so we do not have any proof Kircher actually received the VM - he did not even write Marci about receiving it. Or could it be Kircher sold it to somebody? WMV suggests he left the manuscript to someone at the Court of Parma, with Farnese family. He also claims it was Kircher who asked one time to see the original. He might have but Marci only confirmed Baresch sent Kircher copies. We may easily assume Marci sent him the VM on his own initiative knowing that Kircher would appreciate it.
5 - (Page 419) WMV claims he does not know the name of the owner before Marci and hopes the Czech archivers will find it for him. It is of course possible he was given Baresch's name later - after all, there is a record Marci inherited the library of Baresch and apparently Voynich was in frequent contact with the director of Czech archives. Also, Baresch's name appears in one of Marci's books. On the other hand, WMV did not see Baresch's letter to Kircher - otherwise he would use it as a proof for his provenance,since Baresch was the owner before Marci and he was also residing in Prague.
6 - (Page 420) WMV mentions the information given to Marci by Dr. Raphael and chastised Marci for omitting to mention his surname (WMV figured it out O.K. but he does not mention it in his article either :-) . He also wonders if Raphael was a contemporary of Rudolph or if his information was just a "tradition" (meaning "a rumor"). True, Raphael was later working for Rudolph, but at the time Dee was in Prague he was to young to be able to hear it as a contemporary rumor.
7 - (Page 420) WMV was corresponding with the director of Czech State Archives who told him many of those facts, for instance that the mother of Mnishowsky was Polish nationality (WMV uses the wrong spelling "Missowsky" without "n"- that is common mistake except for M's portrait which says "Mischowsky") . That would explain M's knowledge of Polish language and his work for Bartholomeo Paprocki. Therefore the information by Eugenia Berezhanskaya (see my article THE MYSTERIOUS DR. RAPHAEL, J.VS 8-4-2007-11-10) that he was born into Polish family, is partly correct - however he apparently considered himself to be of Czech nationality.
8 - (Page 420) WMV suggests Marci could have had the VM as early as right after Mnishowsky's death (1644) while some pages back he quotes Marci that he inherited the book and was sending it to Kircher "as soon as it came to his possession" that is 1665 (or 6) so would have waited twenty years. Apparently WMV was confused - in another place he states that the owner before Marci did not live after 1644 either.
8 - (Page 421) Here is the famous statement by WMV that when he got the VM, the margins on the first page "had appearance to be blank" and only due to the
"accident" (when the photo was "underexposed") the name of Tepenec was revealed. He also mentioned that he applied the chemical treatment afterwards, so we can assume the Plate 2. must have been be made only after that. The reason is obvious: sole underdevelopment would not make the picture so dark as it is and both the "signature" and the other text would appear to be light grey. As we can see, they both have the same shade of darkness. Also the "signature" is very clear to read - actually much better than any later reproductions including even the colored scans done by Beinecke. The chemical treatment must have worked very well then. Unfortunately, it did not stop working afterwards since what we see now by naked eye is close to nothing.
9 - (Page 422) It seems WMV slightly promoted Horczicky: he apparently never was a director of Rudolph's alchemical laboratories (he was hired just as a chemist as per record in Vienna) and as for being the director of Emperor's gardens we are not really sure either. He took care however of Clementinum gardens, but that was while while he was still the student there.
10 - (Page 422) WMV suggests the VM might have been given to Horczicky by Rudolph or loaned to him for working purposes. Later WMV even claimed the name in the VM is a part of Rudolph's dedication. That is considered now highly improbable: it is not in the proper place and style for formal dedication and besides, Jacobi (genitive) should have read "Jacobo" (dative).
11 - (Page 424) Here is the very first appearance of the "mysterious personality" as he is called by WMV - of John Dee. WMV of course have no real proof Dee ever owned the VM. We can disregard rather vague comment by his son that Dee owned some strange manuscript (WMV quotes Charlotte Fell-Smith's book on it) . As for coincidental amount of 640 ducats in Dee's diary (to 600 in Marci's letter), that was received from unknown person for unknown service - it was clearly a coincidence (it could have even be the payment for his spy services for Queen Elizabeth).
Of course WMV needed the missing link in the provenance chain
Marci - ( Baresch) - Horczicky - Rudolph - missing link - Bacon and Dee would fit there very well. But was he really the owner a
of the VM as well as the seller of it to Rudolph? True, Dee was interested in Bacon and yes, he collected old manuscripts, but those are only indirect indications. But Dee was not alone interested in Bacon - many scholars of Dee's time were (WMV mentions that Roger's name was considered in intellectual circles in Prague as a token of learning). As for the manuscript: WMV uses tautology: since it was Bacon's, it must have been owned by Dee and if Dee owned it, it must have been Bacon's manuscript. In reality, there is no proof it was bacon's manuscript therefore Dee is not proven either. We need concrete info about the VM and for that there we have no record in Dee's life and his works. Suggestion by WMV that Dee was afraid to be publicly associated with that "heretic" Bacon makes no sense when WMV several pages later confirms De himself introduced the works of Roger to his namesake Francis Bacon.
12 - (Page 428)WMV suggest that Dee, failing to decode the VM, made it a gift to Rudolph. That of course contradicts Raphael's statement that Rudolph gave the bearer of the manuscript 600 ducats, suggesting not a gift but a simple sale. Interestingly enough, Raphael did not mention the owner of the VM, just "the bearer". It is a reasonable assumption Dee would not miss the opportunity to present the VM to Rudolph himself - he was still interested to get employ in Emperor's court.
According to WMV, the time in question could be either 1584 or 1588, when Dee often visited Prague. Well, Dee had an audience with Rudolph in 1584, duly recorded in his diaries, but otherwise exact Dee did no mention there anything about any sale (the diary mentions Rudolph already had the book written by Dee, apparently given to him ahead by Dee's messenger, to get Emperor interested). In 1586 however were Dee and Kelley expelled from Prague - and the very same year Dee writes in his diary about 600 ducats!
It does look like the money were from anybody but Rudolph! Fortunately, they both found the very same year the employ with Rosenberg. In 1588 Kelley left Rosenberg for Prague to serve Emperor and Dee might have been visiting him there. Of course there is no record that Dee also visited Rudolph who was not interested in him at all. Neither was apparently Count Rosenberg since Dee could not make any gold and so in 1589, Dee left for England forever.
13 - (Page 428) WMV quotes "the translation" of the VM by Prof. Newbold and seems pleased about it - Newbold's article about the VM is in the very same issue of the Transactions.
14 - (Page 430)WMV then summarizes the provenance of the VM which is more or less as it is recorded today. According to him Kircher presented the VM to one of the ruling houses in Italy where it was till 1912. That of course completely eliminates the possibility of the VM being found in Villa Mondragone. As we pointed out, Mondragone is anything but castle. True, it was once owned by Farnese family but according to http://www.villamondragone.com/history/ , cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps bought the Villa in 1567 from Ranuccio Farnese. In 1571 , cardinal Ugo Boncompagni lived there and the villa is since then called Mondragone by the dragon on Boncompagni's coat of arms. Therefore when Kircher got the VM, the villa was already not in the hands of Farnese family, to be exact for almost one hundred years. Of course, The VM could have been located elsewhere, maybe even on one of those Farnese castles (if they still had any). Of course, why especially Farnese? Either Voynich knew more or was interested to hide the place where he found the VM. He had apparently good reason for it since he did not even make it a part of his provenance :-).
The other theory that the manuscript reached Mondragone via Jesuit connection (per Beckx' exlibris found on those books) makes of course more sense. That the villa was the hiding place for books in the time of risorgimento could be probably easily proved or disproved by records. Even Voynich might have known how the books got there (Beckx was the famous general of the Society of Jesus). It does seem therefore strange that WMV did not follow that lead. Surprisingly enough, those valuable manuscripts, property of Jesuit order, were transported secretly from Rome and hidden with such an effort, only to be later sold privately to foreigner. We have no doubts that the other manuscripts he bought there were valuable too - after all, he himself indicated he still wanted to buy the rest of the collection.
20th July, 2009.