[ABERIL FOOLS] Zandbergen’s Deceit: A Complete and Holistic Explanation of the Voynich Manuscript

Voynich Manuscript


This article was my April Fools joke for 2015, kept here for personal history and amusement. No, I don’t believe that René Zandbergen forged the Voynich Manuscript. And don’t worry, I’m still sane!


In 2008 I became interested in the Voynich Manuscript and have been reading about it ever since. Over time I read many theories and went through different theories of my own, but one thing always got in the way – it just didn’t make sense. Like the mythical hydra, solving one issue would just raise more. Basically: the more you know, the more you don’t know. How could we possibly explain this artifact where no theory covers everything and the facts can contradict? Every now and again I felt a nagging gut feeling that something just didn’t add up. Something is just fundamentally wrong about the situation that I can’t put my finger on. It’s something that everyone here is thinking but nobody wants to say. We aren’t just on the wrong track, we are in completely the wrong field.

Eventually I gave in to these intuitions and started afresh with a blank slate. I cleared away all speculation, binned my previous work, disregarded the big names and ignored any assumptions and preconceptions that were holding me back. It was time for the bare facts, and the facts only. I built these basic truths into a new explanation without trying to prove any theory, trying to gratify myself, or considering what theories were popular. The result surprised and disappointed me. But the truth is the truth, it just is what it is, and it doesn’t change to comfort anyone. If you can’t face opposing viewpoints and prefer to hide within your own comfortable theories, I warn you not to read further.

I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter. In short: The Voynich Manuscript is a modern forgery by René Zandbergen.

Minerva mysteries

Voynich Manuscript

Recently on the Voynich Manuscript mailing list there has been a kerfuffle over a supposed Athanasius Kircher booklet find in Minerva Auctions’ catalogue. You can find the details summarised here in Ellie Velinska’s blog (don’t worry, the April Fools’ joke at the bottom is on her part, not Minerva’s). I’ll continue with what I’ve dug up.

Who are Minerva Auctions?

Minerva Auctions is a real auction company with real location, events (where people have the catalogues on hand) and items; you can see photographs of these. So it is not just a website like eBay stores (don’t trust those!). Their turnover in 2012 was 4.6 million Euros.

They were founded in 2006 as Bloomsbury Auctions Italia, a branch of Bloomsbury Auctions. They were acquired by Dreweatts in 2011, but as part of an agreement they remained Bloomsbury Auctions Italia until 2012 when they were rebranded as Minerva Auctions. Their location and staff have remained constant throughout.

Minerva Auctions has featured in numerous articles in independent sources (more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, more links, and at least 30 more about l’Infinito by Leopardi). None contain any complaints or controversy.

Their auctioned items have included works by Andy Warhol, Orlando Itello Griselli, Carlo Collodi, Andrea Doria (16th century, letter sold for 15,000), Benozzo Gozzoli (1452 letter, sold for €18,750), Mario Giacomelli, Pietro Donzelli, Elio Luxardo, Eda Urbani, Ghitta Carrell, Teddy Killer (what a name), Aloha Oe (the street artist), Omino71, Mr. Klevra, Biodpi, Zuk Club, Giacomo Balla, Giulio D’Anna, Renato Bertelli, Alighiero Boetti, Renato Guttuso, Franco Angeli (the artist), Mario Schifano, Merino Mazzacurati, Piero Dorazio (sold for €118,750), Mimmo Rotella (sold for €25,000), Robert Indiana (sold for 10,625), Giacomo Leopardi (independently verified), a previously undiscovered painting by Luigi Rossi (the Swiss painter; it sold for 10,625), Tazo Secchiaroli, Berengo Gardin, William Klein, Carlo Mollino, Giovanni Boccaccio (1555 century book edition,  sold for 13,750), 17th century Jesuits (sold for €27,500), Carmelo Bene (sold for €6,250), Giacomo Durazzo/Prince Albert of Saxony (sold for €25,000), Giuliano de Medici (sold for €10,250), Giorgio de Chirico (sold for €112,500), Capogrossi (sold for €20,000), Carla Accardi (sold for €15,000), Luca Giordano (17th century painting), Renato Mambor, Joseph Hooks (the sculptor), Alfro Basaldella, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Renzo Vespignani and Massino Campigliall without controversy. They claim to check items before accepting them, with international-level specialists with experience in Christies and Bloomsbury.

Their customers are many, well versed in the items they procure, from around the world, and have included the mayor of Montefalco. However at no point could I find an article, review, blog post or social media post with any dissatisfaction or allegations of fraud. Nor could I find any evidence of legal troubles. Their one online review as Bloomsbury Auctions Italia has 1 out of 5 stars but the text itself has nothing negative.

You can see their (presumably) TV ads below:

The Kircher booklet

I’ll just briefly summarise some of the following discussion here to keep you up to date. Hypotheses fall into these categories:

  • Digital forgery. No item exists.
  • Item exists as modern forgery.
  • Item exists as historical forgery.
  • Item exists as historically genuine booklet.

Forgery could be a scam, PR stunt or prank, and it could be on the part of the seller or Minerva Auctions. Some details of the image are suspicious (diagram made by Rich SantaColoma who was the first to suspect a digital forgery with evidence) but those points could have been attributed to bad digital resizing and restoration of a genuine image (David Jackson). Some say the Latin is incorrect (“Cronolandensem” for example), the printing is sloppy and the year 1669 is far too late as the printer Hermann Scheus was no longer active for Kircher (or even in general, note how his last known work was in 1653) and Marci was already dead. Also as they admit, the booklet does not feature in any Kircher bibliographies, libraries or museums. The previous owners mentioned could not be found in ancestry records. The description sounds suspicious with enticing mentions that Kircher was onto something, and possibly PR related to a book.

So far there are only two mentions of the booklet (in the auction itself and an article from 2nd June 2013), and only one image. No other publicity or marketing could be found.

Update: That article now displays an “updated at” date of 11th January 2015, just after our discussion. Odd.

(side note: I wonder what would happen if someone tried to bid for something at the auction if it really only existed as a digital image in their catalogue? Sounds like an excellent way to get convicted of fraud and/or false advertising, and I’m sure they know it)

The other Kircher booklet

Out of five Kircher items at the auction, three books sold and two booklets did not. I will mention the other unsold booklet, Arcanorum Theatro, because it has interesting similarities to the main booklet in question.

Frontispiece of Arcanorum Theatro. Click on image for full size.

Frontispiece of Arcanorum Theatro. Click on image for full size.

Translation of description (using Google Translate, sorry, I don’t know Italian):

339. Kircher, Athanasius – Of Lodovico Locatelli once again impressed on some observations of mysterious Theatro in Venice recently proposed by Athanasius Kircher Rome, from the printing of Louis Grignani, 1670. In 8th. 30 pp. Frieze chalcographic the frontispiece, title page in red and black, three incisions in the text, light gora the first paper and small wormholes to the back plate of the binding, missing the final white, Full parchment coeval, with the back piece to the title in gold. Bookplates chalcographic Pauline Elson Bright (Boston).

3500 – € 4500

Lot not sold

The first edition of the Handbook of alchemical Locatelli was engraved in 1644 by Giovanni Pietro Ramellati. In this rare dissertation Kircher, not present in any bibliography consulted and absent from the rich funds of alchemical-hermetic Joost R. Ritman Library” in Amsterdam, the British Library and the Bodleian Library, the Jesuit takes but strangely examined only the second edition of the Handbook of Locatelli, printed in Venice in 1667 by Paolo Baglioni.

It’s also very short (only 30 pages), could not be found in any libraries, and the previous owner doesn’t seem to appear in ancestry records. The similarity in style and image is uncanny. It even has exactly the same flaws/artifacts in the full digital image (here’s the link to Rich’s analysis of the original booklet again), and more.

Photoshop guidelines previously embedded in the image file, showing up as soon as I opened it for the first time.

Photoshop guidelines previously embedded in the image file, showing up as soon as I opened it for the first time.

When I opened the original image in Photoshop, to my surprise it already had guideline metadata embedded in the file. You can see them above; they align with the top and bottom of two of the text lines. (actually I was more surprised that JPG files could store that, but that’s beyond the point 😉 )

Text suddenly going blurry in Arcanorum Theatro.

Text suddenly going blurry in Arcanorum Theatro.

The text suddenly goes blurry at the end of the word “Arcanorum”, why?

Upper left corner of Arcanorum Theatro with cut-off area indicated. Click on image for full size.

Upper left corner of Arcanorum Theatro with cut-off area indicated. Click on image for full size.

Zooming into the upper left corner, there is a weird rectangular area where the dots just cut off.

How the clone stamp was used in the corner of Arcanorum Theatro.

How the clone stamp was used in the corner of Arcanorum Theatro.

Viewing it at medium size makes the situation clear. The cut-off boundary aligns with the very upper-left corner. The shape of the stain was simply duplicated, and both copies overlap with each other. Appears to be a bad application of Photoshop’s clone stamp tool.

Identical bush emblem in Ars Magna Sciendi (left) and Arcanorum Theatro (right).

Identical bush emblem in Ars Magna Sciendi (left) and Arcanorum Theatro (right).

Lastly, the bush emblem is perfectly identical to that in Ars Magna Sciendi, which is known to be real, and possibly La Chine Illustrée, if that indicates anything.

Well if it’s a scam or PR stunt, it has a decidedly unsexy description. If it’s a joke, it’s not very funny. Whatever’s going on, I think it’s related to the main booklet in question. I talked to Ellie about this and we compared the two booklets.

Both Kircher booklets compared

With all of that in mind, looking at both unsold Kircher booklets together reveals a very strong connection.

Stains in the Kircher booklet with shapes outlined in red. Click on image for full size.

Stains in the Kircher booklet with shapes outlined in red. Click on image for full size.

It turns out that all of the stains in the booklets are the same shape, just resized and rotated. You may point out that the one on the left in Arconarum Theatro doesn’t fit, but looking closer, we can see why.

Close up of stain in left of Arcanorum Theatro with shape (red) and cut-off boundaries (green) indicated.

Close up of stain in left of Arcanorum Theatro with shape (red) and cut-off boundaries (green) indicated.

There are more boundaries where the dots cut off too cleanly. When they are traced out, we can see that the “stain” was originally in the same shape as the others, but parts were erased.

Comparison of the footers of the Kircher booklets. Click on image for full size.

Comparison of the footers of the Kircher booklets. Click on image for full size.

Looking at the footers together, we can see that the horizontal lines (including the supposed printing flaws) are identical, only resized a bit. “ROMAE” and “SVPERIORVM PERMISSV” also look suspiciously similar.

Comparison of the backgrounds of the Kircher booklets, with one flipped upside down. Click on image for full size.

Comparison of the backgrounds of the Kircher booklets, with one flipped upside down. Click on image for full size.

Last but not least, putting the booklets side-by-side makes it abundantly clear that the “paper” of both are exactly the same background image, but one was turned upside-down! Now you cannot unsee it! The only difference is that it has a light blue tinge on the right in Arcanorum Theatro.


From my investigation and discussions, I think I can safely conclude that both booklets have always been modern digital forgeries. Yet I have also found that Minerva Auctions has a clean record. So who is behind it?

The most likely scenario, according to David Jackson and I, is that the forgers produced physical items from their digital files and attempted to sell it through Minerva Auctions. The forgers submitted the original files (not knowing the JPG would retain the Photoshop guidelines) instead of taking photos of the items. Minerva Auctions got suspicious after consulting the experts and libraries, figured out the fraud and blacklisted the seller. However by then the items were already printed in the catalogues so they couldn’t just purge it from their records. So now they just say “this item was already sold, stop asking about it anymore please” to cover that they accepted and nearly sold forged items.

However, the scenario does suppose a bizarre (and perhaps implausible) lack of competence on the part of both the forgers and the evaluators of Minerva Auctions. Also if Minerva Auctions discovered the fraud, it would have been far easier to just delete it from their website and say “sorry, the seller changed their mind and withdrew this item” at the auction. It is just a hypothesis so take it with a grain of salt and please don’t bother anyone about it!

(of course, if Minerva Auctions was telling the truth that they sold the booklet about the Voynich Manuscript, that means they actually have sold forged items…)

UPDATE (April 2015): Ellie says “After being confronted by several experts Minerva Auctions admitted that they themselves created the two ‘possible’ Kircher editions. They explained that there is a long tradition of ghost editions in the auction catalog and the two entrees are in line with this tradition.”

Well that certainly backfired!

Hidden numbers and letters on f71r

Voynich Manuscript

Here is Bunny’s find of possible hidden numbers and letters in the tree on f71r of the Voynich Manuscript (link goes to original image). It is reproduced on my site with permission (by request, in fact).

Possible hidden letters and numbers in the tree in f71r.

Possible hidden letters and numbers in the tree in f71r.

Adjustments in the image: “changed contrast brightness, gamma, colour then made b/w.  attempting to remove green from tree and clarify what left, no adjustments made to actual lines of image.”

Cod. Sang. 754 and the Voynich Manuscript

Voynich Manuscript

Every now and again we uncover manuscripts with possible direct or indirect links to the Voynich Manuscript. They might contain a similar glyph, a similar illustration, or perhaps a similar diagram. A good example was Cod. Sang. 839 (discovered by Thomas Sauvaget) with the same quire number style.

Cod. Sang. 754 is perhaps special in how many similarities there are.

All credit to the discovery goes to Job (from the Voynichese project); I am simply documenting it for him. I will avoid making any bold claims and simply lay out all the similarities and let you make your own decision. I’ll also not bore you with the details of the manuscript until the end.

1. The illustration

The first thing Job noticed was the style of the illustration on page 164.

Page 164 of Cod. Sang 754.

Page 164 of Cod. Sang 754.

It should speak for itself.

(it’s the only full plant illustration in the manuscript so don’t bother looking for others)

Introduction to the Curve-Line System

Voynich Manuscript


This paper proposes a new pattern in the text of the Voynich Manuscript named the “Curve-Line System” (CLS). This pattern is fundamentally based on shapes of individual glyphs but also informs the structure of words. The hypotheses of the system are statistically tested by two independent people to judge their significance. It is also compared to existing word structure paradigms. The results suggest that the shapes of glyphs affect their placement in a word, the Curve-Line System is an  intentional feature of the text design, and the text of the Voynich Manuscript is a highly artificial system.

Encipherment process (take 1)

Voynich Manuscript

According to my latest cipher theory, this is a general estimate of what the encipherment process could be:

  1. (Optional) Prepare your plaintext by removing some letters. Helps to save time.
  2. (Optional) Split into blocks of equal length. Helps to reduce errors.
  3. Convert each letter into a number with simple substitution.
  4. Do some mathemagics to the numbers with Pascal’s Triangle (exact details are trade secret). You now have Voynichese! If you split the plaintext into blocks, each one now corresponds to a line of ciphertext. But some may have ended up with wildly different lengths, so…
  5. (Optional) Pad out lines with filler at the beginning or end to make them equal length. Helps to make the result look nicer and harder to decipher.

Pascal’s Triangle and the Voynich Manuscript

Voynich Manuscript

I’ve been toying with the idea of using Pascal’s Triangle to make a cipher that results in similar statistics to the text “system” of the Voynich Manuscript. My concepts are premature but I’m pleased to note that so far I’ve devised something (relatively) simple with short words, binomial word lengths, strong word structure, lines as semantic units, lack of repeated sequences, and word-adjacent repetition. I haven’t had the time to really dig in and quantify any of these and compare with the VMS text but on first glance it appears fairly close.


For example, here is a ciphered phrase using an early version of the cipher and EVA transcription: (deliberately seeded to end in -n all the time)

chiain chiin dain choiin shoin shoiin chiiin chiin shn dain chiiin diin in.

Here is the same phrase again:

potir chiin dain shoedy shoin shoiin chols sheey toy chddy chiiin ooli aiim.

Here is the same phrase yet again:

fodar choiin shn sheey diiin diin choli shoedy chedy ty choin shels daiim.

Here is the same phrase without vowels:

shedy shoey sheyi shoiin choiin chtchar cheli shoyiiim.


Interesting things about my system (so far):

  • Word context is highly important and affects all content.
  • The same plaintext sequence is almost guaranteed to end up completely different every time it is included. This applies to individual words too. For a word of length enciphered twice, the probability that its ciphered versions will match is approximately 1/(2^18n), with a few caveats here and there. I wish WordPress could embed formulae easily (can someone please tell me how in the comments below?).
  • Multiple appearances of the same ciphertext sequence are almost guaranteed to be completely unrelated. This applies to individual words and similar sequences like Timm Pairs. The probability is similar to the one mentioned above. However, if they are at the very beginning or end of lines they might be a bit related. If they are labels (i.e. enciphered outside a line) they become much more similar.
  • Blank spaces in words are meaningful. What do I mean by this? All words actually store 10 letters of information, but one letter of the alphabet is an invisible glyph (we’ll call it “_”), giving the appearance of different word lengths. For example (not a real example), fodar might actually be f _ _ o d _ a _ _ r. The system allows us to unambiguously reconstruct the original ten letter sequence with ease. This allows words to store more information than they would suggest.
  • Similar words that appear next to each other (Bad Romance sequences) are an unintended side effect. They store just as much information as any other sequence because of their context.
  • It allows for a total of 9^4=6561 unique words, though this can be adjusted with some tricks and workarounds. Stolfi counted a total of 6525 unique words in the Voynich Manuscript.
  • If this was confirmed to be the system behind the Voynich Manuscript’s text, I would still have very little idea of how to decipher it.
  • Update: At certain points you could pack filler at the beginning or end of a line to make them equal length and make the system a bit more secure. In the Voynich Manuscript itself, some see evidence of meaningless filler material at the beginning or end of some lines.
  • Update 2: It also accounts for the findings that the first two letters of each word are more predictable than the rest, and that there is some mild correlation between the end of one word and the start of the next.

f76v/f77r Timm Pair

Voynich Manuscript

If you didn’t know, Timm Pairs* are sets of two phrases in the Voynich Manuscript that are almost identical, and not Bad Romance sequences**. Timm himself uses them as evidence of a hoax. Nick Pelling opines that nearby Timm Pairs could be the same plaintext sequence encoded slightly differently by the same system. There’s no telling what they are, if they are anything at all.

That said, I’m not here to discuss them, just present an interesting one.

f76v begins:

polarar okor

f77r begins:

poldarairol qokol

At first glance they don’t look that similar, and strictly speaking these phrases are not close to each other. What caught my attention is that almost no other folio pairs begin this similarly, not to mention two folios that (currently) face each other. As for the phrase similarity, f77r could be seen as a spruced up version of f76v’s beginning.

f76v: p-o-l-d-a-r-a-i-r-o-l / q-o-k-o-r

f77r: p-o-l-d-a-r-a-i-r-o-l / q-o-k-o-l

As for what this means (if anything), I don’t know. Just putting it out there. I thought that perhaps if I looked at similar instances, the transformations between them could lead to insights into the word structures. I haven’t been through them thoroughly but here are some I have found since then:

  • f2v begins “kooiin”, f3v begins “koaiin”, f4v begins “pchooiin”. Oddly, f29v also begins”kooiin”.
  • f54r and f55r both start with “podaiin”. (note: this also begins paragraphs in f49r and f85r1)
  • f68v3 begins “tchedy chepchy”. f68v2 begins “teeody shcthey”. These two folios face each other on a large fold-out section. Although these seem dissimilar, they have exactly the same curve-line pattern which interests me.
  • One of the starred paragraphs on f103r begins “polarar lshedy qotolaiin”. Another on f111v begins “polarar okshey qokain”.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

*Named after Torsten Timm but not discovered by him, serving as an example of Stigler’s law of eponymy. The term is a neologism by Pelling, but given that there’s nothing else to call them, I use it too.

**Bad Romance sequences are the common, repetitive, information-poor phrases peppered through the manuscript’s text like “qokedy qokedy qokeedy qokey” or “dain daiin okaiin”. This is my neologism since I’m not aware of any other name for these. They are named after the Lady Gaga song Bad Romance which is full of the phrase “ra ra-a-a-a roma roma-ma gaga ooh lala”. They are similar to, but perhaps not the same as, what David Jackson calls “epizeuxis”.