Reprint from a blog called ‘Voynich imagery: a summary’ which I ran for and with some international students last year. (April 14 – some formatting issues and one label corrected).
[Note: 18/03/2015 – for my own commentary, see two posts entitled ‘In the vicinity’. -D]
What follows is a digest of the results and my comments on an exercise in using imagery (in general) together with extant objects when describing finds. The summary is focused on that matter, using imagery from the Voynich as hypothetical example.
Also, because my students’ work is here, written permission has to be obtained before it can be used, or cited
Don’t worry – no financial charges are involved.
Just send an email to voynichimageryATgmail.com showing the paragraph/s you want to use. Also, I should point out that my opinions, then or now, are not necessarily reflected in what follows.
(Some formatting lost in transition).
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From ‘Voynich imagery – a summary’ post published April 4th., 2012.
These do resemble the style of modern Egyptian perfume-vials but none of that time are known from the fifteenth century. (The Museo del Perfume has a representative catalogue online)
Miniature forms of the larger vessels also had handles in the Mediterranean and European traditions. As examples see – Figure 2 – which shows Punic perfume bottles and as you can see they cannot stand alone, and have handles which are scarcely needed. Figure 3 has been made with matching base – but this is a burner-and- lamp. Dated to the 5thC BC, it was recovered from the tomb of Philip IV of Macedon.
Western drinking vessels might not need handles, and might have nearly straight sides but did not have so many legs. Conversely, Jugs might have legs but they would also have handles, spouts and a curved belly.
One unusual glass is shown in Figure 5; dated to the 1stC AD and found in Begram. It reflects a pre-Christian cult. Roman-style goblets could, and did, sometimes become ornate, especially if made for royalty or ritual: Figure 6 is Merovingian (mid-5th – 8thC AD) but while the base is nicely flanged, the vessel is again given handles.
So- altogether – if the objects on fol. 88v were drawn before 1438, they’re not European, and if they’re not European they may not have been drawn within the Mediterranean or Europe, either.
I won’t weary readers by offering a survey of the whole history of western styles, if you can accept that until the time of Covilha and Dias, to find the style which is evinced in the pharma section, one has to move eastwards: the further east, the more likely we are to find exact matches.
(I’ll add separate post, sometime, on the ‘apothecary jars’ controversy.)
Figure 8 offers a convenient example of all the design-elements in these objects on fol.88v: the carved base, construction in sections, vertical sides, pyramidal profile and pointed finial.
Its provenancing is unfortunately deficient, but in every other aspect its Buddhist character, is clear, and I should think it originated in Tibet or Nepal. Its material though is rhinoceros horn.
The single, most telling, element here is not, in fact, any of those listed above. It is those wider surfaces shown in both – as planes parallel to the base.
They are indicative of a Buddhist environment, and very likely a Buddhist context, for the whole object/set then presents as the kind of model or miniature stupa that was used, originally, to present food or gifts to the Buddhist mendicant monks.
The Buddhist stupa is a structure which originally served to house relics of the Great Teacher (Gautama Buddha). It was also a place for leaving votive goods and for daily rites.
Stupas that were built during the Hellenistic period – the time of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms – have a an interesting detail that I might mention here, for general interest, if nothing else.
As you can see from the diagram below (Figure 9), stupas built during the 2ndC BC have on top of the dome a finial representing divine cover and protection. In that same form, and its significance, the motif bears comparison those which I have already noted as the ‘nail’ and canopy motifs of fol.75r, and again the parasol in fol.79v.
Having somewhat similar motifs does not prove anything much about our manuscript, even though one can point to similar motifs again on near-contemporary coins or imagery. All the similarity does is offer an added footnote to any final conclusions.
At the same time, it is true that Indians were in Egypt during the Hellenistic period, just as certainly as Greeks in northern India.
Ref: Salomon, Richard, ‘Epigraphic remains of Indian traders in Egypt’ Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.111, No.4 (Oct-Dec.1991) pp. 731-736.
[For the acute observation that the form which is given the sets/objects on fol.88v is not exactly that of the stupas, but of a ‘miniature stupa’, full credit is due to “L.V”, whose original observation it is. As she pointed out, this ‘terracing effect’ appears on donation-vessels (or sets) but not on the stupas themselves. -D]
What are often called ‘model’ stupas should be termed miniature stupas.
Already by Hellenistic times there were more that one kind of miniature stupa.
One type held a tablet or piece of palm-leaf (or, later paper) inscribed with a passage from the Buddhist sutras, and then set under the stupa proper, in the ground or in an underground chamber.
Figure 11 shows the sort of clay tablet that might be inside a miniature stupa, and stupas are impressed upon it in a way which evokes the human form. According to Taddei, who cites Franke, the script which is visible below them is “an ancient form of Sarada”. The illustration comes from Taddei’s article. The object was recovered from Ghazni, now in Afghanistan but once in Hellenistic territory.
One famous exception to the usual interment of miniature stupas occurred in the eighth century AD, when an empress of Japan ordered a million miniatures, each with a passage from scripture within, and all to be distributed or maintained in the temple at Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, where many remain to this time.
Figure 14 shows a modern Burmese example.
In other folios of the ‘pharma’ section the objects also show many points in common with Buddhist artifacts of one type of another type. In Figure 16, note especially the second vessel from left, and the different finials on all.
Altogether, the three objects from fol.88v give little evidence of their date, especially given the long and cherished traditions of the Buddhist world, but in their form they suggest that the vegetable matter associated with each was meant to be carried to, or traded through, a Buddhist community – and very possibly some large monastery.
Our principal subject being the clove and the glass routes, I’ll now include a map showing eastern Roman (Byzantine era) artifacts which have been discovered along the east-west roads. What products or objects were carried back to the peoples of Byzantium is a subject for some later post.
To make sense of the distribution lines, here is a closer look at some of the main northern routes.
The issue of transport is thus no particular problem, the evidence of Byzantine goods being supported by that Buddha in Gandharan style found in a tenth-century grave of Heligoland.
.Where any object can travel, so too can information and skills. Glass-making know-how crossed the whole of the known world within a century** and in the last quarter of the fourteenth, the Pope (then resident in Avignon) is said to have made of clay, and impressed with an image of the Lamb a certain ‘periapt or tablet’ for the king of the Grecians, inserting therein a written paper (no doubt a passage of scripture) together with certain herbs.
** Clarification: the author was referring to discovery of ‘Roman’ glass in a Guangzhou tomb of the Han period, the glass being dated to the 1stC AD. This does not imply the importation of ‘know-how’ but of goods, and indeed it is presently believed that an awareness of such techniques as blown glass only occurs in China some three or four centuries later.- D.O’D. 1/06/2001
The cult of the lamb and good shepherd [seen on the Begram glass – D] predates the rise of Christianity, and so too does the practice of interment for these little messengers. The bulla illustrated is Mesopotamian and shows the habit at least seven thousand years old now, this bulla made two thousand years before Gautama’s birth.
Stands like those pictured in fol.88v are easily seen, and with the habit of custom the same style has not rarely been produced in identical form for many hundreds of years, so I wont discuss them here. I include fig.(20 ) only because it is less a common type, and is made from teak-root.(the original photo was reversed).