Naked Ladies

I have been trying to make sense of the labels on the ladies in the bathing section. Here is a graphic extract of the folios that show the sets of the ladies where each has a label:

Naked Ladies and their labels

(Full detail here: http://pcbunn.cacr.caltech.edu/voynich/ladies_labels.png  beware .. about 20MB)

The reasonable assumption is that the labels are the names of each lady. The labels tend to be short, whereas typical female European names of the 15th Century tend to be rather long: see for example the lists at http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/

Most female Italian names from that period end in “a”. So one might expect some similar common feature amongst the labels … But there is nothing apparent, except perhaps for the somewhat common terminal “9”.

What else could the labels be, if not names?

Also, the ladies are predominantly naked, with few exceptions. The lady labelled oeh9 on the top row in the graphic appears to have a red striped shawl around her shoulders, but she is visibly naked beneath. This strikes me as odd … as she is so distinct, perhaps she can be identified historically by this pattern (I’m looking at R.Sale!)?

Some of the ladies have long hair, some short. Nothing odd about that, but the ones with long hair sometimes appear to be wearing some sort of crown – see for example lady ogoy next to the shawled lady in the top row, and lady sohoe9 in the lower middle of the graphic: she is also holding some sort of ring or handle.

As regards the labels, the most plausible hypothesis is that they are codes for names. My preference for them being names is that it’s the simplest explanation.

Perhaps the whole book is a local guide – the plants from the region, the stars that can be seen from the region, the local spa and slime facilities, the local recipes (but no hedgehogs, please), and featuring the local “talent” – the beautiful ladies who live there. It’s a tourist guide, if you like. Perhaps the information it contains was quite scandalous for the times, hence the code.

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  1. Vytautas
    June 1, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Hi, Julian,
    nice rant about possible meaning of labels… I published some comments at Rich’s Santa Coloma blog proto57.wordpress.com about last my idea: VMS was born in Prato,Italy and is property of old ds Ricci family. I am not historian, so it may need corrections. Women with ring and crown may be catholic Saint Catherina dei Ricci, which history may be found on Internet. Another interesting founding (at least for me 🙂 was photo in architecture book about Prato’s former hospital San Giovani near Castello del Imperatore – in old brick were seeing some VMS drawing parts. I posted link to the book in Rich’s blog, but Google Books for now don’t show these pages – preview is limited. Moreover, woman in crown link is here: http://www.historyandwomen.com/2010/05/saint-catherine-de-ricci.html
    Look at the last photo in this blog, there is some food for mind why content of VMS may be scandalous – it may be caricature on Catholic church 🙂

    • JB
      June 1, 2011 at 10:05 am

      Hi Vytautas,

      Thanks for the comment. Isn’t the date for Catherina dei Ricci a bit late for the VMs – she was from the C16th., rather than the 15th.?

      Which last photo in the blog are you referring to? Can you send the link?

  2. Vytautas
    June 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Hi,
    sorry, I forget to say I think Voynich MS is written through long time – older part IMHO is Zodiac ( German influence seen on illustrations ), other parts may be written later and quires may be mixed not chronologically 🙂 We may have age of parchement, not of writing. Interesting detail: probably Occitan writings on Zodiac pages may be made by Spain man, because Prato was occupied by Spain legions of pope Julius II in middle ages. If there were peoples from Spain incvisition (there were, I think 🙂 ) the VMS may went through inspection of them – bu this is solely my speculation.

    Stright link to photo:

  3. June 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Manuscript can not resolve the English language ! The manuscript is writen and encrypted in the Czech language. I have compiled many pages of the manuscript ( 150 pages).
    Real name manuscript = Gold Mud.
    Author manuscript , Czech alchemist 15th century , John of Lazy.

    • JB
      June 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      Tell me more!

  4. February 26, 2012 at 6:45 am

    I must say that the emphasis on clothes, fabrics, materials and so forth is a little unexpected, but pleasantly so. I’ve been saying for a while (and btw thanks for the link) that the botanical section is focussed on fibres, dyes and related things. Do you think the labels might be describing different types of cloth obtained from different ports (like the Periplus Mare Ethythreum perhaps?) Or should be opt for a more contemporary tone, and suggest the ladies are dreaming of the different garments they intend to don after exiting the bath? 😀

  5. October 10, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    and if it was a cosmogony, the story of the creation of the world, the words in the name of women are goddesses. They reside in heaven and one day the water flows over the land with them …

  6. February 26, 2014 at 10:59 am

    An interesting feature of the baths is that the water is often reused. In one picture, the top users seem to enjoy high status, the middle baths are full of common women and the bottom bath has only one woman in it together with animals drinking from the same source. What do you think of that?

    • JB
      January 3, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Well spotted … I’m not aware that that has been pointed out before?

  7. MRP
    January 3, 2017 at 4:09 am

    Regarding: “Most female Italian names from that period end in “a”. So one might expect some similar common feature amongst the labels … But there is nothing apparent, except perhaps for the somewhat common terminal “9”.

    In the first section of your image, all labels (names) start with “o”, so maybe that could be the italian female name-ending “a” .. at least as a concept, or anagram/reverse?

    Your algorithmic analysis are very interesting and helpful. Hope you will have time to do more in the future. Very valuable. Thank you.

    – MRP

    • JB
      January 3, 2017 at 11:41 am

      That’s an interesting observation, regarding the initial o perhaps indicating a reverse spelling or some form of alphabetically ordered anagram. I hope to get back to these analyses soon!

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