The Voynich manuscript is a visual treasure. It is rich in hauntingly beautiful and strange illustrations. The illustrations depict unidentified plants and cosmological drawings, and are accompanied by thousands of words written in an unknown alphabet and an unknown language.
My study of the Voynich manuscript started as a part of my ongoing sculpture project Humming. Humming refers to songs without words, the sound of flying insects, or the dark and unperceivable hum from the Big Bang. The project was meant to explore how we experience reality without words.
To me, the Voynich manuscript felt to be wordless with its unreadable text. The strange illustrations extended the limits for my imagination about how the world could be understood.
The first time I saw an illustration from the Voynich manuscript was when I researched plant illustrations for Humming. The illustration showed a plant which was totally strange and unidentifiable. At the same time, it was also familiar. I found it to be highly original, drawn with a free hand, and shaped with a lively and strong character. The text surrounding the plant was like a beautiful hum.
I got caught by an intense and enduring curiosity about the world view the Voynich artist possessed. What kind of relation did the artist have to the plants? What knowledge of the plants did she or he possess? And why were they drawn this way?
By time, the visual content of the manuscript got more and more familiar to me. I learned the forms of the plants, and the forms of the cipher, the shapes of the words, their spaces, their rhythms. After three years of visual studies, what started out as an exploration of a wordless existence, backfired. I found myself obsessed to find the meaning behind the words.
This site collects my studies of the Voynich manuscript. It proposes a decoding of the Voynich cryptogram, and it aims to test the decoding in the different parts of the manuscript to find out if it gives results. It is a slow work, but hopefully it will be possible to reveal the content of the Voynich manuscript in the end.
Tests of the deciphering in the botanical section of the manuscript lead to plants that match the illustrations. By now my studies offer matches, both by name and morphology, for 127 of the 129 plants. From the plant names the aim is to verify the decoding and build an understanding of how the cipher is used to express the sounds in the language. From this it will be possible to move on to translate other parts of the manuscript.
The Voynich manuscript lacks context. Other than the carbon dating of the velum (1404-1438), there is little we know for certain about the manuscript. We are left with the manuscript´s visuals. My approach to the decoding of the Voynich cryptogram is based on my master in fine arts. It includes courses like development of alphabets, years of training in free hand drawing, art history and picture analysis. I use my experiences in visual expressions, thinking and logic in my decoding work.
The Voynich manuscript can be seen at the digital collections of Yale University Library.
Siv Bugge Vatne
Oslo, Norway. October 2022
Mapping the plant names and identifying the herbs in folio 1r – 19v. A test of the cipher in the herbal section of the manuscript. Can it be for real that every pharagraph starts with a plant name? How many different plant names are there for the same illustrated herb. Can these synonym plant names be used as a crosscheck? (READ)
Mapping the plant names and identifying the herbs in folio 20r – 44v. (READ)
Mapping the plant names and identifying the herbs in folio 45r – 96v. (READ)
Comparing the plants that are identified as the same genus, family or class. (READ)
All pictures from the Voynich manuscipt: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.