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Manuscripts Voynich acquired in 1911-1912

Abstract

This is one of two pages at this site that look more closely at Voynich's acquisition of the Voynich MS. It was one of several manuscripts he acquired in 1911 or 1912, and it came from a larger collection of books and manuscripts. This page aims at reconstructing the set of manuscripts that he acquired, and looks at their origins. The parallel page concentrates on the questions where the manuscripts were preserved when Voynich acquired them (traditionally: Villa Mondragone in Frascati), and how he was able to find and buy them. There are occasional cross-references between the two pages, but both can be read independently, without having to go back and forth all the time.

There is a third page that paints the historical background of this collection, which is optional reading, and not absolutely needed to understand the present page.

The first step is to present the sources that are available for this analysis. We will find that they are largely consistent, with only minor differences. We will also see that the group of manuscripts that Voynich acquired is positively identified as a subset of a collection that was being sold to the Vatican library in 1912. This collection traces back to the important Jesuit library of the Collegium Romanum.

A comparison of all listed sources then allow us to set up a 'maximum' list of manuscripts that may have been acquired by Voynich. This maximum list is presented as a table. Among this list there are several manuscripts of which the present whereabouts are unknown, and some for which there is no evidence that Voynich ever owned them. It includes 20 manuscripts of which we can be certain that Voynich acquired them from the Jesuits. Many of these manuscripts can be traced back to earlier owners, and for three of them we have reports that they were studied while they were in the Roman College of the Jesuits as late as 1870.

Apart from these manuscripts, the larger collection that was for sale also included a number of early printed books (including some incunabula), but this page (at least in its present version) concentrates primarily on the manuscripts.

Finally, some illustrations of several of the manuscripts that Voynich acquired are presented.

1. Introduction

Voynich acquired an important group of manuscripts in 1911 or 1912. One of these was the MS now known as the Voynich MS. As he writes in his 1921 paper (1):

In 1912 [...] I came across a most remarkable collection of preciously illuminated manuscripts. For many decades these volumes had lain buried in the chests in which I found them [...]
 
While examining the manuscripts, with a view to the acquisition of at least a part of the collection, my attention was especially drawn by one volume. It was such an ugly duckling compared with the other manuscripts, with their rich decorations in gold and colors that my interest was aroused at once.

The present page presents a reconstruction of the list of manuscripts that Voynich acquired. It is work in progress, and additional information is still being gathered. The location of the sale, usually assumed to be the Villa Mondragone in Frascati, is analysed on another page, that equally describes work in progress.

2. Available sources

2.1. Overview

The main sources used for this reconstruction are:

  1. Ruysschaert (1959) (2). This source was already identified many years ago, and in a footnote in its introduction the author refers to the acquisition by the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich of close to 30 books from the collection he is describing. Ruysschaert used previous work on this collection by E. Carusi sometime before 1926.
  2. A handwritten catalogue of books and manuscripts that was prepared in 1903, apparently in preparation for the sale of these Jesuit books to the Vatican library. I have consulted a copy of it that is preserved in the archives of the Vatican Library. It was also an important source for Ruysschaert.
  3. A collection of 16 bibliographical paper slips preserved in the Beinecke library, which refer to many of the manuscripts that Voynich acquired from the Jesuits, and which were apparently removed from these books by him.
  4. Two publications by De Marinis, which are cited by Ruysschaert (see note 2).

Additional information about the manuscripts acquired by Voynich has been obtained from modern on-line library catalogues and from several additional publications, which are cited when relevant.

2.2. Source 1: Ruysschaert (1959)

Ruysschaert (1959) (see note 2) is a key source for the present analysis. Part of the most relevant text has been transcribed here. This erudite and very detailed catalogue describes 296 Latin manuscripts out of a larger MS collection that came from the old Jesuit Roman College, and that were incorporated into the Vatican Library in 1912, as the result of a donation by pope Pius X (3). According to Ruysschaert, the complete collection consisted of:

He further states that a book dealer named Voynich had acquired approximately 30 manuscripts out of the original collection, which therefore did not enter the Vatican library. Ruysschaert explains that the collection of Latin manuscripts that entered this library consists of two separate parts. The first derives primarily from the collection of Muretus (about whom more will be said further below), and this now constitutes the MS collection Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615. The second part is the MS collection of Lagomarsini (5), which now constitutes the MS collection Vat.Lat. 11616 - 11709. The manuscripts from both collections were mostly classical and humanist works from the 15th Century.

Pope Pius X acquired these manuscripts, and donated them to the Vatican library. Ruysschaert writes that essentially all of the manuscripts described in his catalogue have the following attachments or annotations:

Thanks to the on-going digitisation project of the Vatican Library some of these manuscripts can now be browsed online, which allows us to see these attributes, as will be shown further below.

Petrus Beckx S.J. was the 22nd General Superior of the Society of Jesus from 1853 to 1883 (i.e. effectively. Formally: until his death in 1887). He experienced some of the most difficult times of the Society of Jesus, including the expulsion of the Society from Rome in 1873, and the confiscation of the Society's possessions.

In footnote 3 on p.vii of the introduction, Ruysschaert lists the manuscripts that he believes were acquired by Voynich, making reference for each item to De Ricci (1937) (6) and/or the two publications by De Marinis.

2.3. Source 2: the 1903 catalogue

The catalogue is preserved as Arch.Bibl.109 in the Vatican archives. This manuscript was mentioned by Ruysschaert in the introduction to his catalogue. It is also briefly described in Kristeller (1998) (7):

The original which, according to Kristeller, should be in the Università Gregoriana has not been found, but Arch.Bibl.109 is a photographic copy of it. Its title page says: Catalogo di codici e stampe acquistate dalla Biblioteca vaticana nel 1903 or: catalogue of manuscripts and prints acquired by the Vatican Library in 1903. This is the same text as in the above description by Kristeller, except that he had the year (incorrectly) as 1913 instead of 1903.

This catalogue has a total of 294 entries, of which 259 are of MS codices, 32 are prints, and 3 are duplications of other entries. Out of these 259 MS codices, 187 are identified (in the right margin) with an entry in Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615, 36 with an entry in Vat.Gr, and one with Vat.Turco 80. The remaining 35 items are either not commented on, or traced to an entry in De Ricci's Census (see note 6) or to De Marinis, who was also referred to by Ruysschaert. His relevant catalogues are described further below. Two of the printed books in the catalogue have also been included among Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615, presumably because they contain significant handwritten annotations.

This shows that this catalogue only covers the MS collection that Ruysschaert described as 'from Muretus', while items Vat.Lat.11616 - 11709, i.e. the MS collection of Lagomarsini, are not included in it. Out of the 202 manuscripts making up Vat.Lat.11414 - 11615, 189 are included in the catalogue, which means that 13 are missing (6-7%). Among the Greek manuscripts (Vat.Gr. 2341-2390) 14 are not mentioned, and we may conjecture that these may also have come from the Lagomarsini collection. They do not form a contiguous block of shelf marks.

Each entry in the catalogue is a short description, usually just one line, giving author(s), title(s), whether the MS is on parchment or paper, and from which century it dates (which is occasionally given as 'uncertain'). Of particular interest is of course the description of the Voynich MS, but unfortunately this is so unspecific that it would not have been possible to identify the MS by this desciption alone. It is simply described as: Miscellanea, c.m.s.XV, where the abbreviation means: codex membranacaeus saec. XV. It is the only item in the entire list that has neither author nor title (8). The right margin has a handwritten reference to the Census p. 1846 (see note 6), which lists the Voynich MS, also in accordance with Ruysschaert (1959).

The catalogue says that the collection was offered for sale in 1903, but the manuscripts only entered the Vatican Library in 1912, as clearly stated in Ruysschaert (1959) (see note 2). I do not know to what extent such a long time span is unusual, and we may only speculate why and how Voynich was offered a chance to acquire some of the items.

The catalogue also includes 32 printed books, some of which are incunabula. The printed books are not discussed by Ruysschaert, and the annotations in the catalogue provide no information about the present whereabouts of about two thirds of them. There is a suggestion in Sowerby (1967) (9) that Voynich also acquired a number of these, but this still needs to be confirmed. Sowerby writes:

Mr. England, next-door in No. 70, was making a catalogue of the newly discovered printed books, and when I could I used to go in to see him and ask him to explain to me. Almost every book he showed me was a discovery, and was therefore unknown to bibliographers.

Additionally, we read in a Kansas City newspaper clip that Voynich acquired early prints at the same time as this set of manuscripts.

2.4. Source 3: the bibliographical paper slips

The 16 bibliographical paper slips now preserved in the Beinecke library were found by H. Garland in the London book shop after Voynich's death, at the time when the shop was being 'wound up'. Garland sent them to A. Nill in the USA. This must have happened around 1937. The envelope in which he sent them is still preserved (10). Two examples of these slips are shown below. For the second, click on the picture for an enlargement.

The paper slip that should have been attached to the Voynich MS has unfortunately not been preserved. Similar bibliographical slips may also be observed in the digitised manuscripts of the Vatican library (click on the thumbnail).

See also:
>> MS Vat.Lat.11504.
>> MS Vat.Lat.11506.
>> MS Vat.Lat.11539.
>> MS Vat.Lat.11543.
>> MS Vat.Lat.11559.

It is clear that both sets of paper slips are from the same origin, i.e. the manuscripts used to be together in the same collection. According to Ruysschaert (11), the main text in ink dates from the 18th or 19th Century. The small paper stickers saying "ex bibliotheca privata P.Petri Beckx" were most probably added in 1870-1873. The pencil annotations on the slips preserved in the Beinecke library are in the hand of Anne Nill, and these must have therefore been made after 1937.

2.5. Source 4: De Marinis

Both Ruysschaert (1959) and the 1903 catalogue refer to two publications by the antiquarian book dealer and bibliophile Tammaro De Marinis (12). I have consulted both. The first, dated 1913 (13), is one of his sales catalogues of manuscripts and printed books, of which I own a copy. This catalogue includes B/W plates of most of the manuscripts.

As we shall see below, seven of the manuscripts in this catalogue can be traced back to the present collection, but W.Voynich is not mentioned anywhere in the catalogue, nor is the Collegium Romanum. The prices of these manuscripts are indicated in Lira, which was one of the currencies (together with the French, Swiss and Belgian Francs) united in the Latin Monentary Unit. In 1913 there were about 5 Lira (or LMU) to one US Dollar. One of these seven manuscripts is offered for sale for 1000, while four others range from 15,000 to 20,000. The remaining two manuscripts are indicated as 'sold', and fortunately we know that they were sold to Pierpont Morgan (Sr.) in New York. From correspondence preserved in the Morgan library (14) we know that Voynich received 300,000 Lira (equivalent with 60,000 US$ in 1912) for the pair!

None of the printed books in this catalogue can be traced back to the 1903 catalogue, i.e. to the Collegium Romanum.

The second book by De Marinis, from 1947 (15), is a monumental multi-volume work, analysing the library of Alfonse, King of Naples and Aragon (1396 - 1458). Three out of the seven manuscripts from Voynich that were mentioned in De Marinis' 1913 catalogue trace back to the library of Alfonse and these three manuscripts are described in some detail in this book. Here, the author also mentions that he acquired them from the London book dealer W.Voynich.

Interestingly, an appendix to this volume was written by Mgr. J.Ruysschaert, so we see that De Marinis and Ruysschaert knew each other. This is the most likely explanation how Ruysschaert found out that Voynich acquired some of the manuscripts that he later described in his 1959 catalogue.

3. Combining the sources

3.1. Correspondence between the 1903 catalogue and Ruysschaert (1959)

It is clear that Ruysschaert used the 1903 catalogue as a source (he refers to it), and that both documents refer to the same collection of manuscripts. The comments in the right-hand margin of the 1903 catalogue, which were added later, provide a reference to the Vatican library shelf mark or, in case the MS did not enter the Vatican, a (tentative) identification of the present whereabouts of the MS, which may be in De Ricci's Census, or one of the above-mentinoned works by De Marinis. These lists are consistent between the 1903 catalogue and Ruysschaert (1959). An interesting additional detail is the following phrase in Ruysschaert (1959):

His codicibus addendi sunt sex alii, Biblicos textus et due Breviarium Romanum praebentes, ut apparet e quodam elencho cuius imago photografica servatur in Archivo Bibliotheca Vaticanae, t. 109

The 1903 catalogue has a handwritten table on the page labeled "B", where the Bibles and Breviaria are counted with stick figures, resulting in 6 resp. 2.

3.2. The bibliographical paper slips

A comparison of the bibliographical paper slips clearly shows that:

A third feature, not visible in the above illustrations, is that on the reverse of these bibliographical slips (both in the Beinecke and in the Vatican) there are annotations in pencil. These are discussed in the parallel page, where the conclusion is that these are the original shelf marks from the Collegium Romanum library of the Jesuits.

3.3. Correspondence between the 1903 catalogue and the bibliographical paper slips

Each entry in the catalogue is a short description, usually just one line, and a comparison of these entries with the bibliographical paper slips clearly demonstrates that the persons who composed the catalogue (16) wrote these short descriptions by summarizing the entries on these paper slips. I have found no instance where any additional information is included. The catalogue entry specifies for each of the manuscripts whether it is parchment or paper, and from which century it dates (which is occasionally given as 'uncertain'). The following table shows a few examples of text on the bibliographical slip and in the catalogue.

On paper slip In catalogue Presently
AEliani opus de instruendis aciebus ex graeco in
latinum conversum a Theodoro Graeco thessalonicen-
si
Codex membranac. in fol. po. Ms. saec. XV. cum
ornatu et stemmate gentilicio in prima pagina depictis,
et cum pluribus initialibus aureis. Constat foliis scriptis
64.
Aelianus / Opus de instruendis aciebus - versio Latina Theodori
codex membran in fol saec XV
Voynich: J01
Boneti Nicolai Metaphysica, nempe: de X praedicatis,
de 1is et 2is intentionibus, de theologia naturali,
de philosophia morali.
Codex chartaceus in fol. Ms. saec. XIV. Constat
foliis scriptis 227.
Bonetus Nic. / Metaphysica _ cd. chart. saec. XIV Vat.Lat.11504
De Leonibus Leonis Ioannis (peru-
sini) De philosophico ac theologico
sapiente – De vita ac gestis Theodosii
imperatoris.
Codex membranac. In fol. Ms. saec. [blank] cum plu-
ribus initiailibus pictis et inauratis. Constat
foliis scriptis 109.
De Leonibus Leonis Ioan / De philosophico et theologico sapiente ecc. Cod.m.s.inc. Voynich: J21

This allows us to suspect, though not with great certainty, that the paper slip of the Voynich MS would have specified that the MS was from the 15th Century. This is relevant, because it would have 'given away' that the Voynich MS is not likely to be a Roger Bacon autograph.

3.4. The covers of the manuscripts

So far, the information contained in the sources described above does not give us any irrefutable confirmation that the Voynich MS was included in this collection, even though there is no particular reason to doubt it. There is, however, another common feature of the two collections of manuscripts that allows us to confirm it. This is the standard cover that was given to almost the entire collection, while it was still in the Collegium Romanum library.

The binding of the MS.

Ruysschaert briefly describes this rebinding of the manuscripts in his catalogue. Mrs. Christine Grafinger (17) of the Vatican library explained to me that almost all manuscripts in the collection have a similar, light-yellow parchment binding, and she confirmed that the cover of the Voynich MS is very similar. The above-mentioned links to the digitised manuscripts in the Vatican library can be used to judge this for oneself. The style of the binding is exactly the same, and this is not just true for the Voynich MS, but also for most of the other manuscripts acquired by Voynich.

In a >>blog entry of the Historical Archives of the Gregorian University (in Italian) we read how a large collection of Jesuit manuscripts was rebound, probably between 1824 and 1870, since they were "infested by worms". This appears to be the explanation for the consistent set of covers. The Voynich MS has certainly been affected by woodworms, and MS conservators have derived from this that its original cover was of wood covered by leather. The same is true for at least one other MS acquired by Voynich: a Boccaccio MS now at the University of Chicago.

3.5. MS Table 1

In the following, the information from the main sources identified in Section 2.1 are combined into one table. The columns have the following meaning:

Author, Title Author and title of the MS. If the paper slip has been preserved, it is taken from this. Otherwise, it is taken from the 1903 catalogue. For the two items that appear in neither of the two (at the end of the table), a modern identification is adopted
Bibliogr.Slip Whether the slip has been preserved and whether it has the P.Beckx sticker. The 16 manuscripts for which this is the case are at the top of the table.
A.Nill note Any pencilled MS identifications on the paper slip made by Anne Nill
1903 catalogue Two parts, separated by a / . The first part (if present) gives additional information from the description of the MS. The second part is a marginal reference added later (possibly by Ruysschaert) identifying the MS with an item in De Ricci's Census or in De Marinis.
Ruysschaert The reference to De Ricci or De Marinis in Ruysschaert (1959)
Comment Additional comment
ID The ID of this MS in MS Table 2 (further below).

The following abbreviations are used inside the table:
DM13 = De Marinis (1913) (see note 8)
DM47 = De Marinis (1947) (see note 10)
DR = De Ricci's Census (1937) (see note 5)
JR = Mgr. José Ruysschaert
PB = Petrus Beckx SJ

Author, Title Bibliogr. Slip A.Nill note 1903 catalogue Ruysschaert Comment ID
AEliani Opus de instruendis aciebus [...] With torn PB sticker DM13; Not in DR / De Marinis 3-7 DM47 pp.3-5; DM13 No 2; nunc Bodleianus Latinus class. d. 38 = DM13 No.2 J01
Alfragani Astronomia With PB sticker (illeg.) Afraganus astronomia c.membr. S.XIII et XIV / Census 1845 DR II p.1845 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 1) See specific note 4 below. J02
Aristotelis opera sequentia: [...] Shown above.
PB sticker damaged.
?: DR I p.83 - - Not in 1903 cat. and unknown to JR. See specific note 3 below. J05
Ausonii Opera PB sticker cut in half DM13 no.6; Not in DR / De Marinis, 12 DM47 pp.22-23; DM13 No 6 = DM13 No.6 J06
Biblia sacra 597 ff. PB sticker cut. (erased) (one of 6) p.vii note 3 There are 6 bibles in the 1903 cat. This one cannot be identified J08
Boccaccii Ioannis [...] De genealogia deorum With PB sticker DR I p.564 (The library of the University of Chicago [...], Ms. 100) / Census 564. "O" DR I p.564 - J14
Breviarum Romanum 322 ff. No PB sticker (one of 2) - p.vii note 3 There are 2 breviaria in the 1903 cat. This one cannot be identified J15
P. Candidi Opuscula, scilicet: [...] No PB sticker. DM13 no.14; DR I p.961 / Census p.961? DR I p.961 (The library of William King Richardson [...], Ms. 23); DM13 No.14 = DM13 No.14 J17
M.T. Ciceronis opera philosophica No PB sticker DR II p.1461 / Census p.1461 DR II p.1461 (The Pierpont Morgan Library [...], Ms. 496); DM13 No.10 See specific note 1 below. J20
De Leonibus Leonis [...] De philosophico ac theologico sapiente - [...] Has PB sticker Sold to U.of.S.Cal. 1942 / Census p.1848 DR II p.1848 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 16) - J21
Isidori Originum liber V [...] No PB sticker DR I p.82 / Census p.82 DR I p.82 (The Henry E. Huntington Library [...], Ms. HM 1034) - J24
S. Isidori sententiarum libri Has PB sticker DR II p.2047 / Census p.2047 DR II p.2047 (The free Library of Philadelphia, [...], Ms. 125) - J25
Manetti Iannotii, De dignitate et excellentia [...] Has PB sticker DM13 n. 23; not in DR / "x" DM47 p.105 (Iannotii Manetti De dignitate et excellentia hominis); DM13 No 23 =DM13 No.23 J26
Ioann. Bapt. Mantuani [...] Parthenice, sive de laudibus [...] No PB sticker Not in DR / "x" - - J29
Rufini presbyteri Periarchon Origenis libri IV [...] Has PB sticker DR I p.516 / Census p.516 DR I p.516 (The Art Institute, Chicago [...], Ms. 20.97) - J34
Valerii Maximi, dictorum et factorum memorabilium libri novem Shown above.
Has PB sticker
DR II p.1120 (Listed) / (blank) - Overlooked by Ruysschaert J35
Alfonsi regis Castellae, Tabulae astronomicae - - / Census 1899 DR II p.1845 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 2) See specific note 5 below. J03
Anonym. Ordini della repubblica de Venezia [...] - - / Cat. De Marinis n.11 DM13 No 11 =DM13 No.11 J04
Biblia Sacra - - (Five more Bibliae Sacrae) p.vii note 3 - J09
-13
Breviarum Romanum - - (One more Breviarum Romanum) p.vii note 3 - J16
Balsamonis (Theodori), De sexta sinodo - - / "x" - Paper MS of the 16th C. J07
Cicero M.T., Ad Herennium - - / Census 1894 DR II p.1894 (The Library of Grenville Kane [...] Ms. 29; olim Marci Antonii Muret) - J18
Cicero M.T., Officiarum - Cato Maior Laelius, Paradoxa - - cod.ch.s.inc. (forte recentior [...] / "x" - Paper MS of uncertain date. See specific note 6 below. J19
Hieronymus (S), de gestis patrum [...] - - / Census p.1473 DR II p.1473 (The Pierpont Morgan Library [...], Ms. 626) - J23
Justinianus, Diversae Constitutiones - - / Census 585 DR I p.585 (The library of the University of Chicago [...], Ms. 423) - J28
Joannes Chrysost. S., Commentaria Graeca in Acta Apost. - - / Census 1105 DR I p.1105 (The Library of the Univ. of Michigan [...], Ms. 14) The only Greek MS in the collection J27
Miscellanea - - c.m.s.XV / Census 1846 DR II p.1846 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 8) Almost certainly "the" Voynich MS J31
Ptolemaeus, Almagestum - - / Census p.49 HM65 DR I p.49 (The Henry E. Huntington Library[...], Ms. HM 65) - J32
Ritius Michaelis, de regibus Gall. et. - - cod.ch. XVI s. / (blank) - Quite probably a duplicate entry for Vat.Lat.11545 J33
Virgilius P.M., Opera - - / Census p.886?
p.1896?
DR I p.886 (The Library of Robert Garrett [...], Ms. 110) or DR II p.1896(The Library of Grenville Kane [...], Ms. 29) - J37
Valtorii Rerum Militarum - - / Census p.1848 DR II p.1848 (The estate of [...] Voynich [...], Ms. 13 aut Ms. 14; nunc vide The Rosenwald Collection (The Library of Congress)) - J36
Virgilius P.M., Bucolicon, Georgicon et Aeneis - - / Census p.2057 DR II p.2057 (The free Library of Philadelphia [...], Ms. 172; olim Marci Antonii Muret) - J38
Dydimus, De Spiritu Sancto - - - D.R. II p.1461 (The Pierpont Morgan Library [...], Ms. 496) No slip and not in catalogue. =DM13 No.15 (overlooked by JR). See specific note 1 below. J22
Marcanova, Antiquitates - - - DR I p.897 (The Library of Robert Garrett [...], Ms. 158; olim Marci Antonii Muret) No slip and not in catalogue. See specific note 2 below. J30

3.6. General notes on the completeness / correctness of the reconstruction

Ruysschaert lists approximately 30 items of which he suspects that they were acquired by Voynich. However, from Voynich we have only 16 paper slips (18). The 1903 catalogue includes 35 entries for manuscripts that are not traced to the Vatican library. Combining all this information results in a list of 38 possible items. It is of course possible that some of these items were not purchased by Voynich but by someone else, and at least one of them is rather likely to be a mistake in the 1903 catalogue (19). The minimum number of manuscripts that Voynich certainly acquired is 16 (from the preserved paper slips) plus one for the Voynich MS itself, so we can be certain that there were at least 17.

It is also certain that some more paper slips of manuscripts acquired by Voynich must have been lost. One such case is a pair of manuscripts originating from the library of Matthias Corvinus. These books have been together from the time they were in Hungary until the present time, yet the paper slip of only one of the two has been preserved. This is addressed further below in specific note 1.

Another interesting example is a MS of Marcanova sold by Voynich in 1924, which was identified independently as originating from the Collegium Romanum. Its paper slip has also not been preserved and it is addressed further below in specific note 2.

A third additional MS of which we can be certain that Voynich acquired it is called "Constitutiones Venetae". It is listed in the 1903 catalogue, where it is marked as missing, and it appears in De Marinis (1913). This brings the total to 20.

Three of the items that were certainly acquired by Voynich are missing in the 1903 catalogue, namely an Aristotle MS for which the slip has been preserved (see specific note 3 below), and the two items mentioned in the previous paragraphs (one Corvinus MS and the Marcanova MS). The last two were, however, listed by Ruysschaert. Two other items, which are not listed by Ruysschaart but for which the paper slip has been preserved by Voynich (J29 and J35), can be found back in the catalogue.

From the above analysis, and a direct inspection of De Marinis (1913), it appears the following items in it definitely trace back to Voynich's acquisition from the Jesuits: Nos. 2, 6, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 23. Of these, Nos. 2, 6 and 23 are also described in more detail in De Marinis (1947).

Of the 32 printed books in the catalogue, 23 are not traced to the Vatican library, so this would be the maximum nr. that Voynich could have acquired in addition. We don't know if the Lagomarsini collection included any printed books. None of the printed books in De Marinis' 1913 catalogue matches any of the 23 titles of missing prints. Voynich's own catalogues have not yet been consulted.

3.7. Specific notes about some of the manuscripts

Following are some more specific comments about some of the manuscripts and their tentative identifications by A.Nill and Mgr. J. Ruysschaert, especially highlighting some issues and inconsistencies.

  1. The pair of manuscripts denoted J20 (Cicero) and J22 (Didymus) both originate from the library of Matthias Corvinus. These books have been together from the time they were in Hungary until the present time, and both were certainly in the Collegium Romanum library (20). However, the paper slip of the Didymus has not been preserved, and this MS is also missing from the 1903 catalogue. Then again, the Didymus is described in detail in De Marinis (1913) and Ruysschaert also included a reference to it.
  2. The famous Marcanova MS was sold by Voynich to Robert Garrett in 1924. By 1927 it was identified as originating from the Collegium Romanum library (21), where it had been seen by several people until the year 1873, after which it disappeared. It is not listed in the 1903 catalogue and its paper slip has also not been preserved (22). Ruysschaert still included it in his publication.
  3. Of the Aristote MS (J03) the paper slip has been preserved, so it certainly originates from the Collegium Romanum library, and was acquired by Voynich. However, it is not listed in the 1903 catalogue, and it has completely escaped Ruysschaert's attention, even when the MS would have been of great interest for him (23). This could just be an oversight in the 1903 catalogue, of which we already saw that more than 6% of the books now in the Vatican Library are missing. The fascinating history of this Aristotle MS is described in more detail in dedicated page.
  4. Ruysschaert identifies the Alfraganus MS (J02) with MS 1 in the Estate of W.Voynich (De Ricci p.1845). This is, however, problematic, since that MS has size 21 x 15 cm and 163 ff. The paper slip refers to a MS in quarto with 154 written folios. The annotation of Anne Nill on the paper slip possibly says: "Voynich MS [1]" but it is hard to read.
    MS 1 from the Estate of W.Voynich was later sold to the Columbia University of New York, where it is now preserved as Smith Western Add. MS 06. Because it includes an old italian land ownership note, there is no doubt of this identification.
    There is extensive correspondence in the Grolier club about an Alfraganus MS, between Anne Nill and Francis Carmody (Univ. of California Berkeley), early 1945. From this, it appears that the Collegium Romanum MS may have been acquired by Garrett, and would now be known as Princeton Garrett MS 99. The latter is listed as an Astronomical Miscellany, s. XIII–XIV, France (Paris?), which is consistent with the paper slip. This identification is not yet certain, however.
  5. Ruysschaert identifies the Alfonsine astronomical tables (J03) in his 1959 publication with MS 2 of the Estate of W.Voynich. However, the pencilled note in the margin of the 1903 catalogue refers to the Census, p.1899. This would indicate Princeton MS Kane 51. At present, it is not clear which one is correct, and the present whereabouts of MS 2 of the Estate of W. Voynich is also not known to me.
  6. My search for the present whereabouts of the Cicero MS (J19), which has so far been unsuccessful, is described here.

4. Present whereabouts of the Manuscripts

4.1. Introduction

With the aid of De Ricci (1937) (see note 6). and modern library catalogues, either online or in printed form, most of the manuscripts that were acquired by Voynich can still be identified in libraries today. A table below shows the result of this exercise. It is work in progress and there are still numerous uncertainties. It was mentioned before that there are 20 manuscripts of which we can be certain, and these are highlighted in the table, which is sorted alphabetically by author. There are other manuscripts of which we can also be fairly certain, because they are listed in the 1903 catalogue, and a corresponing MS was sold by Voynich to the holding library shortly after 1912, but these have not been counted.

4.2. MS Table 2

Table entries:

ID My identifier for this MS. It is highlighted in case this is one of the 20 certain manuscripts.
Author, Title Author and title of the MS, where possible according to modern catalogues
Main properties Material, size and origin of the MS as far as known
Earlier owner Any known owner before the MS entered the library of the Collegium Romanum. These are briefly discussed below the table.
Present Present Library and Shelf Mark of the MS
Comment Additional comment

The table uses the same abbreviations as the first table.

ID Author, Title Main properties Earlier owner Present Comment
J01 Aelianus: Opus de instruendis aciebus ca. 1455; mem., in folio, 64 ff. Alfonso of Aragon Bodleian MS. Lat. class. d. 38 -
J02 Alfraganus: Astronomia 13th cent; mem. in quarto, 154 ff. - Uncertain See specific note 4 above.
J03 Alfonsus: Tabulae astronomicae 15th cent; mem. - Uncertain See specific note 5 above.
J04 (Anon) Constitutiones Venetae 16th cent; mem. in quarto - Unknown Interesting for its beautiful binding.
J05 Aristoteles: Ethica Nicomachea etc. 13th-14th cent; mem. 36 x 24 cm, 229 ff. Pier Leoni a) Univ. Illinois, MS 0008
b) Newberry MS 23.1
c) Huntington HM 1035
Book sold in three parts. See specific note 3 above. Also (see note 23) and more details here
J06 Ausonius: Epigrammata ca. 1475; mem. 27.5 x 8 cm, 78 ff. Ferdinand Duke of Calabria,
Alfonso of Aragon
Unknown (private?) Trace lost after 1974 (24)
J07 Th. Balsamon: De sexta sinodo 16th cent; chart. - Unknown Uncertain whether ever owned by Voynich.
J08 Biblia Sacra 14th cent; mem. in octavo, 597 ff. - Unknown (25). See also (26).
J09 - J13 Biblia Sacra Unknown - Unknown 5 more bibles (25)
J14 Boccaccio: Genealogiae Deorum ca. 1385; mem. 30 x 22 cm, 216 ff. Coluccio Salutati Univ.Chic. MS 100 see here
J15 Breviarum Romanum 15th cent; mem. in 12-o, 322 ff. - Unknown (25)
J16 Breviarum Romanum - - Unknown (25)
J17 P. Candidus Dec.: (Four treatises) ca. 1460; mem. 26 x 17 cm, 95 ff. Borso D'Este Harvard: Houghton MS Richardson 23 -
J18 Cicero: Rhetorica ad Herennium ca. 1350; mem. 34 x 23 cm, 46 ff. M. Antonius Muret Princeton: Kane MS 29 -
J19 Cicero: Officiarum - Cato Maior Laelius, Paradoxa (unc); chart. - Unknown See specific note 6 above.
J20 Cicero: De natura deorum etc. ca. 1485; mem. 32 x 21 cm, 272 ff. Matthias Corvinus Morgan MS 497 See specific note 1 above. Also (see note 20)
J21 L. Giovanni de Leoni: Flagellarii Malorum etc. ca. 1400; mem. 33 x 24 cm, 109 ff. - Univ. S.Cal. MS 14 -
J22 Didymus: De Spiritu Sancto 1488; mem. 34 x 23 cm, 225 ff. Matthias Corvinus Morgan MS 496 See specific note 1 above. Also (see note 20)
J23 Hieronymus: Vitae Patrum 1363; mem. 35 x 25 cm, 138 ff. - Morgan MS 626 (26), (27)
J24 Isidorus: Originum 14th cent; mem. 40 x 29 cm, 178 ff. - Huntington, HM 1034 -
J25 Isidorus: Sententiae 11th-12th cent; mem. 28 x 20 cm, 87 ff. - Free Libr. Phil., MS Lewis E 136 (26)
J26 Manetti: De dignitate et excellentia... 1452; mem. 24 x 17 cm, 120 ff. Alfonso of Aragon Unknown (private?) Trace lost after 1974 (24)
J27 St. John Chrysostom: Homilies on the acts... 1150; mem. 38 x 26 cm, 424 ff. (in Greek) - Univ. Michigan, William L. Clements Library Shelf mark: MS 14? uncertain.
J28 Justinianus: Novellae Constitutiones ca. 1260; mem. 43 x 26 cm, 150 ff. - Univ.Chic. MS 423 -
J29 J. Baptista Mantuanus Carm.: Parthenice, sive de laudibus BMV carmen 15th cent; mem. in quarto, 69 ff. - Unknown -
J30 Marcanova: Antiquitates ca. 1473; mem. 36 x 26 cm, 209 ff. M. Antonius Muret Princeton: Garrett MS 158 See specific note 2 above. (26).
J31 Miscellanea / the Voynich MS ca. 1425; mem. 22 x 16 cm, 116 ff. Rudolf II, Marci, Kircher (a.o.) Beinecke MS 408 (26)
J32 Ptolemaeus: Almagestum 1279; mem. 31 x 21 cm, 270 ff. Pier Leoni Huntington, HM 65 -
J33 M. Ritius: de regibus Gallorum etc. 16th cent; chart. - Unknown (see note 19).
J34 Rufinus: Periarchon ca 1480; mem. 32 x 22 cm, 173 ff. Pier Leoni Art Inst. Chic. MS 20.97 -
J35 Valerius Maximus: Dictorum et factorum... ca. 1400; mem. 27 x 20 cm, 126 ff. - Univ. Mich., William L. Clements Libr. -
J36 Valturius: De Re Militari 15th cent; chart.+mem. 28 x 21 cm, 208 ff. Malatesta Library of Congress
MS Rosenwald 6
Voynich estate 14 (and 13) became Rosenwald MS 13 (and 14) and then Library of Congress Rosenwald 6 (and 7). Nr. 6 has the supposed Mantegna sketch (26)
J37 Virgilius: Opera ca 1460 (or 1470); mem. 27 x 17 (or 19 x 12) cm, 252 (or 218) ff. - Princeton: Garrett MS 110 or Kane MS 36 One of the two
J38 Virgilius: Bucolica, Georgica, Aeneis ca. 1450; mem. 28 x 18 cm, 194 ff. Antonio Caboge of Ragusa,
M. Antonius Muret
Free Libr. Phil., MS Lewis E 198 -

It of interest to note that approximately half of the manuscripts that was offered for sale by the Jesuits was on parchment and half on paper, as indicated in the 1903 catalogue. Voynich, however, clearly preferred parchment manuscripts, because among the set he acquired only one appears to have been a MS on paper, or more specifically a mixture of parchment and paper, namely one of his favourites: the Valturius MS (J36).

5. About some of the earlier owners

5.1. Alfonso of Aragon

King of Spain and Naples (1396 – 1458), who possessed a very rich MS library. This has been described extensively in De Marinis (1947) (see note 15). Three of Voynich's manuscripts originate from his library (i.e. before they entered the Collegium Romanum library), and at least one more is now among Vat.Lat.11414-11709.

5.2. Borso D'Este

Duke of Ferrara and Modena (1413 – 1471). The Biblioteca Estense (Estense Library), was the family library of the dukes of Este. Dating at least to 14th century, it was largely enriched during Ferrara's Renaissance, and finally established in Modena in the beginning of 17th century. The reference to the Dukes of Modena and Ferrara by Voynich in his 1921 publication (see note 1) refers directly to Borso. (See also below, MS J17).

5.3. Malatesta

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417 - 1468).

5.4. Matthias Corvinus

King of Hungary (1443 - 1490). Founder of a famous humanist library that was dispersed after his death. Many of his manuscripts have been lost, or are at best untraceable.

5.5. Pier Leoni

Physician to Lorenzo il Magnifico (~1440 – 1492). Three of the manuscripts acquired by Voynich come from his library, plus the following among Vat.Lat.11414-11709: MS 11433, 11496, 11504, 11520, 11575, 11576, 11581, 11585, 11600, 11610 and 11612. Leoni's library was first researched by Dorez (28), who found a catalogue of it, but none of the manuscripts. That discovery was achieved by Ruysschaert based on the collection that is the subject of this page. This is described in great deail in Ruysschaert (1960) (29).

5.6. Antonio Caboge of Ragusa

Ragusa is modern Dubrovnik. Beside the one MS acquired by Voynich, there are four more of his manuscripts among Vat.Lat.11414-11709. All five of these were owned by Muret (see below) before they entered the Collegium Romanum library.

5.7. M. Antonius Muret

The large library of this famous French humanist (1526-1585) was donated to the Collegium Romanum some time after his death. Three of the manuscripts acquired by Voynich, and a large number among Vat.Lat.11414-11709, trace back to this library, including the library's catalogue of books issued before 1585 (Vat.Lat. 11562). Other manuscripts that were owned by Muret are now in the archives of the Gregorian Library (APUG) and many of his printed books are in the national library of Rome (BNCR).

5.8. Athanasius Kircher

Among the manuscripts acquired by Voynich only the Voynich MS traces back to Kircher, but in the overall MS collection of 380 volumes there was at least one additional MS that used to belong to him. This is now in the Vatican library, MS Vat.Lat.11698, described in detail by Ruysschaert. That means that this second Kircher MS was in the Lagomarsini collection. Other manuscripts that used to belong to Kircher have been dispersed along various collections. This is analysed in more detail in a section in the parallel page, which also includes a graphical representation of this dispersion, showing the path of the Voynich MS from Kircher to Voynich.

6. Final comment

As seen in the introduction, Voynich described the collection of manuscripts as "a most remarkable collection of preciously illuminated manuscripts" and further refers to them as "with their rich decorations in gold and colors" (contrasting to his "ugly duckling"). The following links to on-line images of some of these manuscripts may illustrate this, in particular the two Corvinus manuscripts (J20 and J22). It is worth noting that, among the manuscripts now in the Vatican library, I have so far not seen any that have any significant illuminations.

The illustration of f4r of MS J17 is of interest as this shows the arms of Borso, Duke of Ferrara and Modena, which Voynich highlighted in his 1921 publication (see note 1).

J05c Aristotle >>f1r  
J17 Petrus Candidus >>f4r  
J20 Cicero >>fiv   >>f1r   >>f98r  
J22 Didymus >>f1v   >>f2r   >>f3r   >>f92r   >>f93r  
J23 Hieronymus >>f26r   >>f27r  
J24 Isidorus >>f1r   >>f9r   >>link   >>link  
J30 Marcanova >>full scan (with intro)
J32 Ptolemaeus >>f1r  
J38 Virgilius >>link  

Acknowledgment

I would like to acknowledge the very helpful support in these investigations from APUG (Rome, Historical Archives of the Pontifical Gregorian University/ Roma, Archivio storico della Pontificia Università Gregoriana).
Illustration of the paper slip of the Aristotle MS shown with kind permission from the Beinecke Rare Book and MS Library in New Haven (CT).
I am grateful to the various libraries who make available digital scans of their manuscripts in the table above, and to the Vatican Library / Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana for the digitisation of several of the manuscripts among Vat.Lat.11414-11709.

Notes

1
See Voynich (1921).
2
Ruysschaert (1959), see also a partial transcription.
3
See also: Bignami Odier (1973).
4
He also mentions Vat.Lat.13479, but this appears to refer only to the donation by Pius X, not its origin from the Collegium Romanum.
5
Hieronymus Lagomarsini S.J. (1697-1773) was a professor at the Collegium Romanum, and famous for his critical edition of the complete works of Cicero. Most of his manuscripts were Cicero texts.
6
De Ricci (1937)
7
Kristeller (1998), p.347
8
It is somewhat unsatisfactory not to see any reference to the unknown writing. On what basis Ruysschaert decided to make this identification is not yet understood, and further research in the papers of Carusi might be enlightening. In any case, the anecdote reported by Kraus further clearly suggests Ruysschaert's conviction about the identity of this MS.
9
E. Millicent Sowerby (1967) (pp.13 and ff.). She describes one of Voynich's European "hunting trips" shortly before she joined the staff, which was in December 1912.
10
It is in the Beinecke Library, and it has several useful annotations from Anne Nill. I am grateful to J. Speel for providing the closing date of the London shop.
11
Ruysschaert (1959), introduction, p. ix.
12
Some information about De Marinis may also be found here
13
De Marinis (1913)
14
I am grateful to William M. Voelkle of the Morgan library for this information.
15
De Marinis (1947). I am grateful to the Library of Congress for an opportunity to consult this monumental work.
16
Several different hands can be identified.
17
In a private communication in 2014.
18
A statement made by Kraus (ref. will be added) may lead us to believe that there may have been 17 of them around 1960.
19
The entry for Ritius (J33) is the first one in a different hand, and seems to refer to the same MS as one described two lines above. Three other duplicate entries exist in the catalogue, but these have been marked as such. Something seems to have been written in the right margin, but it has been erased.
20
The two manuscripts have been together since the time they were in the library of Matthias Corvinus. They were taken to Rome and ended up in the Jesuit library in the Collegium Romanum, where they were seen by the Hungarian historian Csontosi. Voynich sold them to De Marinis, and his partner Forti sold them through Alexandre Imbert to John Pierpont Morgan. The latter sale was concluded in July 1912.
21
Holmes Van Mater (1927). I am grateful to Rich SantaColoma for the reference.
22
It is possible that this MS, and other manuscripts acquired by Voynich, actually come from the collection of Lagomarsini. I also still need to find out whether the Lagomarsini collection also had the paper slips with the bibliographical descriptions. That the MS was originally in the Muretus library does not prevent it from ending up with Lagomarsini. Another book with Latin inscriptions, from the collection of Kircher, equally ended up with Lagomarsini and is now MS Vat.Lat.11698.
23
This is one of the manuscripts that trace back to the library of Pier Leoni, as documented by the Huntington library. The MS is described in more detail here. In Ruysschaert (1960), which deals with the Pier Leoni library, this MS is equally overlooked. There is one Aristotle MS in the 1903 catalogue with the title 'Varia', which is identified as Vat.Lat.11509, though with some erasures, a question mark and a cross. This could potentially be an incorrect identification.
24
The two manuscripts went through several hands. After De Marinis they were owned by Patetta, Hoepli, Hornby (named by Ruysschaert), Major J.R. Abbey, and after his death they were sold by Sotheby's after 4/6/1974 (part 8) to (an) as yet unknown collector(s) or institute(s).
25
There are six MS copies of "Biblia Sacra" and two of "Breviarum Romanum" that are not traced to the Vatican library, as also mentioned by Ruysschaert. The paper slip of only one of each has been preserved.
26
Several of these manuscripts were on display in the Art Institute in Chicago in 1915. They are mentioned in the AIC Bulletin (1915):
Among the most important is an unpublished and unsolved cipher manuscript by Roger Bacon, thirteenth century. The profuse illustrations give sufficient clue to the importance of the cipher content. = J31: the Voynich MS,
A tenth century Spanish codex, one of a very few Spanish manuscripts of such antiquity, is especially important for its rich decoration with ornaments showing strong Irish and Moorish characteristics = J25: S. Isidorus / Sententiae.
The finest treasures of the collection are an Archaeology of Rome and Italy, compiled by G. Marcanova; = J30: Marcanova / Antiquitates,
a treatise on military and naval matters by Pandolfo Malatesta, Duke of Rimini, and Roberto Volturio, his minister of war; = J36: Valturius / De Re Militari,
and a fourteenth century Lives of Martyrs, containing three hundred water color sketches = J23: Hieronymus / Vitae Patrum,
The bible receiving most attention in the Bulletin cannot be positively identified with the one listed in the table above (J08).
27
From the beginning the most highly valued MS in the collection, with water colour paintings supposedly (but not actually) from the hand of Giotto.
28
See Dorez (1894) and Dorez (1897).
29
Ruysschaert (1960), which again mentions Voynich's acquisition of some of the manuscripts coming from the Collegium Romanum library. See also Note 23.

 

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