A note on f116r

Studies of punctuation in manuscripts is difficult and nothing too definite can be said apparently.

Still, I’d like to record the following small observation (possibly made earlier elsewhere, but I couldn’t find it then):

there are two points on the last cross of the two-line “prayer” on f116r, that’s the one after the word ‘maria’ and the points are top right and bottom right corner.

It looks to be original, not a later emendation.  So, it could act like a final ‘full stop’ punctuation.

Now, the link mentionned above says colon punctuation appeared “in the late 14th century to mark either a full or a medial pause”. So at least nothing anachronistic here, since the VM was made after that.

It perhaps doesn’t help much to identify who wrote that text (the peculiarities of the letters, like the funny shape of the ‘a’, are probably a much better lead).

But, perhaps, if we’re lucky, this kind of final-cross-with-punctuation is something a bit wider, let’s say something specific to a certain region, or religious order, rather than just a particular scribe.  If I ever find another instance somewhere, I’ll mention it here.


A reference similar to f116v

The marginalia of f116v are of course very interesting.   Some believe they are pen trials, but several others see the line 3 and 4 as a kind of latin prayer involving Holy Mary (see this message by Gregor Damschen and follow-ups, and this page by Nick Pelling).

Here I would simply like to report on a part of a page from a manuscript written around 1460-1480, by Gall Kemli, who was a wandering monk near St-Gall.   (The manuscript itself is entertaining, with lots of different ink types (see e.g. f128r), possibly different handwritings here and there, and many curious passages.  For instance, on f77r there is a Sator-Arepo square, around f156r some music sheets, possibly some games on f165v — hidden behind another page, and on f98av possibly some cypher text.)

The page I want to mention, due to its similarity with the VM’s f116v, is f91r where one finds these lines:

(Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, Ms. C 101)

The crosses could mean “make a prayer sign”. Indeed, they definitely mean that on another later page, f106r, where one sees at some point “amen+ Gaspard + Melchior + Balthazar”.

But on f91r the actual text is difficult to understand.  In fact, the first three words “daimana + Hathagiata + Dyodecamene” seem to be pure invention.  So could it be some non-intelligible spell then? At least the notice of the manuscript does mention exorcism.

If so, that might explain why the VM’s f116v is so difficult to read (beyond the emendations): maybe not all words are meant to be meaningful, that’s a possibility.


And just to touch upon other topics mentionned before on this blog that do occur in this manuscript too, let me mention the following.

First, if you’re wondering how that monk Kemli wrote “primus” well it varies a lot in the manuscript. It is clear he didn’t write the VM quire numbers, given the lower part of f104v (a very different primus, no ‘t’ in quintus nor sextus, no ‘m’ in septimus…),  but some instances are fairly similar to the VM, e.g. lots nearly fine ‘primus’, ‘prima’, ‘primum’ on f92r.

As for the Zodiac aspects, while his calendar starts in january on f18r, it is interesting to note that he attributed Capricorn to it, so that march is Pisces and so on like in the VM (and unlike most manuscripts I’ve seen, where Pisces tends to be february and Aries is march).  So now we know which was the custom around St-Gall at the time.

So, if indeed the VM comes from around Lake Constance, then perhaps whoever added the month names knew it had to be the Pisces=march way rather than the Pisces=february.

Note also how, on some early woodcuts pasted in the manuscript (all of which are surrounded by nice convoluted Volkenbanden!), the Cancer sign does look like a crayfish on f14v  just like in the VM , while the scales on f12r  are very similar to those in the VM. Unfortunately, Scorpio on f10v looks more realistic than the the lizard-like of the VM. Finally, there’s a crossbowman on f9v, but not as a sign for Saggitarius who has a standard bow.

Addendum on quire numbers

Call this bad bibliographical search, but to amend that last post, I’ve just found a second instance of a ‘primus’ occuring in a title which is fairly similar to the VM, but less than the St-Gall one.

It is in Flores musicae – Cod.poet.et phil.qt.52 , a music book from 1467 written by Hugo Spechtshart in Esslingen (about 120km north of Konstanz, so still within the southern half of Germany).  Namely, on f42r the title in red reads ‘primus tonus’, and although the loop of the p is closed that’s similar to the VM in terms of abbreviations.

Interestingly, in that same book just one page before, on f41r, the abbreviation of ‘primus tonus’ (in red, top right corner) is different, with ‘-ri’ not abbreviated:  so the same author could freely change from one page to the next, it seems.

Moreover ‘secundus’, ‘tertius’ and ‘quartus’ in the red titles on that page are abbreviated like in the VM, while on f41v ‘quintus’ and ‘septimus’ are similar to the VM, but ‘sextus’ and ‘octavius’ are different. And later on f50v ‘quartus’ gains a ‘t’ compared to f41r, so it becomes unlike the VM there too.

So, it still seems that the VM-like ‘primus’ abbreviations found so far point to that same rough geographic area. But with the caution that people may not have been very strict with abbreviations at the time. And so the VM quire numbers are perhaps not the super clear-cut identifyer one could have hoped for.  But of course, the closer the more likely, and other specific aspects of the script, like whether the old-style loopy 4 is inclinated towards the left or the right, and so on, are important.

Some comments on quire numbers

As is well-known, the quire numbers of the VM (which in all probability have been added later) do exhibit some handwriting peculiarities which could provide a good clue as to who wrote them, or at least where they were added.

Here they are:

These are typical 15th century numerals.  One of the peculiarities is that ‘quartus’ doesn’t have a ‘t’ while ‘quintus’ and ‘sextus’ both have one.

Another peculiarity is the precise way ‘primus’ is written.  The abbreviation for ‘-ri’ is not made with a neat ‘i’ above the ‘p’ as in tidy scripts (here is a 1419 example of that kind, from the Czech region of Bohemia: it is at the end of the first line in red, where moreover the ‘9’ abbreviation for ‘-us’ is not used).  Indeed, in the VM it is made with some kind of round accent above a not fully closed ‘p’ and also uses ‘9’ for ‘-us’.  Here it is in close-up:

Now you may remember that I have already mentionned (at the end of this post) that a certain 1459 manuscript, named Cod. Sang. 839, which has belonged to the St-Gallen Stiftsbibliothek for a very long time (in fact since before 1712 at the very least, most probably since the end of the 15th century)  does have a very similar mark at the top of its f176r.  So it is an interesting case to study.

What I’ve worked out since last time, is that it is not an isolated mark there, but in fact f176r to f177r are the table of contents of the book, added by a different hand than the scribe of the main text.  That table of content was started with black ink, then resumed with light brown ink and a smaller quill pen.  Since the main text has four parts, one finds that person’s abbreviations for primus, secundus, tertius and quartus.  Here is how they look like:

(St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 839, from f176r, f176v and f177r.)

So it is quite clear to me that is is not the same person as in the VM:  most prominently because the quartus is not abbreviated in the same way, but also because the loopy part of the p in primus is not done in one part as in the VM.   One can further tell the two manuscripts apart by looking at those Cod. Sang. 839 pages again: the table of contents also contains page numbers, for instance here are some:

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 839, from f176r, f176v and f177r.

It is clear that 4, 6 and 8 are done very differently from those in the VM where they have different shapes and orientations. So, definitely not the same person.

Still, the shape of the primus is fine, so one can wonder whether this is typical of some region.  The answer seems to be: yes, it is typical from the area around Lake Constance around mid-15th century, so that’s a german-speaking region.  Here is my thinking.

First of all,  this Cod. Sang. 839 together with Cod. Sang. 840 and Cod. Sang. 841 were written by the same scribe, on the same type of paper, the first two in 1459 the third in 1462, according to Scherrer’s catalogue entry for 841.    So far, only Cod. Sang. 839 is available in digital form.

But one very interesting clue about the identity of the person who wrote the table of contents is that, according to this book, the owner of Cod. Sang. 841 was a certain Johannes Lippis, and that he also called himself “hanns lippis”. Now, according to the list of St-Gall charters mentionning the name Lippis,  there was indeed a Hans Lippis living at St-Gall in 1426 who was a tanner (=Gerber), and also one in 1441 who in one instance served as a lawyer (=Fürsprech).

Since Lippis is not a common name and since the town itself had around 3000 inhabitants at the time, there’s a fair chance that all are the same person.  Assuming that Lippis also owned Cod. Sang. 839 due to their identical scribe and topics, then he wrote that table of contents, implying that at least one person in St-Gall wrote primus that way around 1459-1462. (To confirm this, one should check the Lippis handwriting in Cod. Sang. 841 against the TOC of Cod. Sang. 839.) Presumably the library then acquired them from Lippis, perhaps when he died.

Now, I haven’t found other examples of similarly written primus as quire number or section titles.   But within lines of text I have some.  For instance,  the bottom of f35v of this nice Latin-Mittelalemannisch dictionnary (mittelalemannisch was a continuum of dialects spoken in northen Switzerland and south Germany) written mid-15th century from the area of Lake Constance looks like this:

Primus (indeed erste in germanic languages) is written without abbreviating the ‘-ri’.  That’s a miss then, you might think.  And yet, on the next page one finds:

where ‘mat. primus’ has the ‘primus’ part abbreviated just as in the VM and St-Gall.  So it did occur in that region it seems.

For comparison, here is a 1466 text from Tossignano near Bologna in Italy, where in the second column of f3r one can see that “primus” is not exactly like in the VM, and more importantly the numerals in the text show that modern-looking 5 and 6 were already in use in that region, unlike what’s in either the VM or Cod. Sang. 839.

So to conclude, we might have this St-Gall/Lake Constance region lead concerning the stage when someone wrote the quire numbers.  Is that exciting? Well, one nice coïncidence is that the only 15th century Zodiac that I know of where the Sagittarius is depicted as a crossbow wielding warrior (and I’ve gone through dozens online), is precisely one from Konstanz

One might even say: wait a minute, if this is correct, here you have this Hans Lippis who:

1) was a tanner — so someone who had easy access to velum ;

2) lived in an area where the abbreviation for primus is similar to that of the VM (so people after his death could have sorted his stuff, for example strange manuscripts, with month names added later in french near Geneva some time later) ;

3) lived in an area where people sometimes used a crossbowman for Saggitarius ;

4) read about Aristotle’s cosmology and metaphysics — that’s what Cod. Sang. 839 and 840 are about ;

5) was afraid of witches — so says a sentence written by him on f200 of Cod. Sang. 841

6) and lived near one of the largest libraries of the middle-ages (which was full of older Carolingian manuscripts containing decorative gallows and illustrations).

So could he, or a family member, have written the VM as a kind of self-made treatise ?  That’s far-fetched certainly, and very probably wrong, but at least not as far-fetched as other things I’ve seen.

Extra letters on f75v

This is something that has already been noticed, but doesn’t appear to have been discussed thoroughly:

Fact: there are extra letters at the end of the first five lines.

Interpretation: it seems to me they have been written vertically, because there are 6 letters for 5 lines. So it could have a particuler meaning (signature, or cypher key,… well something).

And one more thing I notice is that it is clear there have been a second layer of ink (emendations) from time to time on that page.

But what I can’t quite figure out is if these vertical letters, which do appear darker like other emendations, were there originally, or have been purely and simply added out of the blue (I would think they were there too).    Here is a zoom:



About the mark on f57v

I would like to discuss the mark on f57v.

Fact: there’s indeed the following peculiar mark at the bottom right corner:


Interpretation:  there are several things to discuss about it, namely:

– who made it? Six possible answers stand out: the original author ;  or the same hand as the quire numbers — Nick Pelling thought this in 2002 ; or the same hand as the month names ; or the same hand as the arabic numerals ; or the same hand as the f116v marginalia ;  or none of the previous ones.

– what is its meaning? Many things could be possible,but the only idea I’ve seen mentionned is by René Zandbergen that it is a arabic numeral for 17.


Here, I would like to propose another interpretation altogether: it appears to me to be the letter G as was done in german-language scripts around 1440-1470.   And I think that it is an abbreviation for the german word ‘Gebet’ (prayer, worship).

That would make sense: the four people a the center of the circles seem indeed into some form of worship, and the sequence of symbols on the second circle repeats itself four times, like a mantra/prayer.

To illustrate my idea, here is a part from this page of a little text in latin at the end of a manuscript (whose main text is in german), and where the G of the word ‘glorie’  is very close to the VM mark:

This german manuscript has been written in Bavaria around 1450-1490.  I must stress that I’ve seen many other examples of G made like this in german texts of that era and that region (some even closer visually speaking, spiky and with similar strokes, but I forgot where), and sometimes with a precise dating at the end of the text (say ‘anno 1452’), so it’s not a one-off and it has a precise german-language mid-15th century setting.

If this interpretation of  ‘G as a shorthand for Gebet’ is correct, then it definitely brings us to a german-speaking part of Europe (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)  and points to someone who understood the purpose of the circles as a prayer (but not necessarily knew what to make of them).




Irregular gallows part 2

This is a sequel to the earlier post on that topic, I’m adding here a few more that I had not mentionned yet.  Detailled logical analysis to follow in the coming weeks, hopefully.

f8r (first appearance of a “long double-loop type gallow accross other symbols”, beginning of last paragraph):

f8v (second such long gallow, beginning of first paragraph) :

f17r short gallow (seems added on top of a letter ‘u’ or a number ’11’) :

f30v (third long gallow, beginning of first paragraph) :

f35r (fourth, more elongated, long gallow, again beginning of first paragraph) :

f42r (fith long gallow, more extreme with an extra loop, beginning of first paragraph, curvy smaller line on the first leg seems to be a later addition with a different ink) :

f42v (highly decorated gallow with extra loop, could be a clue to the state of mind of the writer and thus the nature of the previous long gallow on f42r) :

f56r (sixth long gallow, very tidy, beginning of first paragraph — note: the seventh long gallow is quite far away: it’s the one on f90v already mentionned in the previuous blog post) :

f76v (beginning of a line, next to a nymph) :

f79r (yet another appearance of this type of “twisted” gallow: error recovered, or normal variant, or other rarer gallow ?) :

f84r (a twisted type of a diffent gallow, the single-loop one) :

f86v6   :

f87v (curious two-in-one):

f95v1 (long with extra loop) :

That’s it, most of the unsual ones have been mentionned, time to work out consistent ideas now.