Archive for the ‘Drebbel’ Category

A Trip to the Rosettes

October 17, 2009

The rosettes pages of the Voynich Manuscript are filled with some of the most controversial illustrations of the entire book. Many of it’s elements seem close enough to real objects or places to excite a possible identification to some actual places and buildings. I don’t ascribe to the latter, of course, as I think this is simply a fantasy illustration. Inspired, yes… as I feel most or all of the Voynich is… inspired, altered, compiled from many sources, both real and literary… then imagined into what it is, whatever that is. Irregardless of this, I have felt it would be most helpful to create these illustrations in three dimensions.  The original artist was clearly representing 3D terrain and structures, and gave enough clues to “reconstruct” those elements a bit closer to what must have been in their head when they did so.

Aerial View of the Rosettes

Aerial View of the Rosettes

As I wrote in the description of the youtube animation (embedded at the bottom of this post),

“My intention in creating this video is not to favor one theory over any other… only to attempt to visualize the rosettes page as the artist originally envisioned it… … do not use this image or video as any sort of study guide… I have not exactly recreated all the detail or textures, and have made simplified versions of some textured areas for clarity. So if you are interested in the manuscript, research it carefully, and download the high quality SID images from the Beinecke Library at Yale University.”

However, since this is a blog, and unlike youtube and facebook, I will give my opinion on this matter. Of course people will see thing in these pages differently from each other. Some believe they have seen real places, and actually visited them in person. Some believe that the center rosette is somewhere in Italy or Russia. But while describing the real place it evokes to them, they never describe the giant tubes radiating out from the plaza.

The Tower in the Hole, textured

The Tower in the Hole, textured

Nor, of course, the Tower in the Hole, amply discussed on it’s own page. But if this is not a real place, then is it a real place, altered? I don’t think so. It is not close enough to a real place to be any real place. Inspired? Yes I think it may be.

Rosettes Castles

Rosettes Castles: Walled city of Renfusa?

The castles of the walled city, above. I’ve created the relative heights of the upper rosettes based mostly on the artist’s use of terraces. The multi-tiered terraces leading from the two outer, upper, rosettes, to the center one, differ from the other connectors to the other rosettes. As for the generic cylinders which I have rendered their bases, I did so because there is no detail to be seen under the obscuring disks of decoration.

Tubes, Tubes, Tubes.

Tubes, Tubes, Tubes.

So the upper left rosette has giant tubes sticking out… the center rosette has more. What could this mean? Are they Cannon? Chimneys? Maybe. But I like the idea they may be used to carry sound. From Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis,

“We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.”

This is probably a reference to the experiments of Della Porta, and the ancient Greeks in fact, and others… who noted that sound could be transmitted and projected through tubes. The New Atlantis has the “House of the Six Days Work” at the eye of Bensalem. It would be appropriate for this main center of power and information to stay in touch with its surrounding lands… and large, radiating sound tubes would do the trick.

Orchard? Rain Cloud?

Orchard? With Rain Cloud?

The lower left rosette resembles closely the decorative look and features of the f85v2 image, which can be construed as an orchard or garden. There are four figures in this illustration, picking or holding some things… some are odd and unidentifiable, and others are clearly meant to be fruit or vegetables, and a grain or other plant.

Fruit Picker?

Fruit Picker?

So if the lower left rosette can be thought of as an overview of this orchard, then the odd “blob” might make sense as a rain/storm cloud. In my 3D image it is rendered twice… once by our late-great Voynich artist, and then by me, floating and in 3D. Interestingly it has a tube coming from it, projecting toward this rosette. I might point out here that Cornelis Drebbel, who greatly influenced The New Atlantis, was believed to be able to make artificial rain, thunder, and lightening. From The New Atlantis:

“We have also great and spacious houses, where we imitate and demonstrate meteors — as snow, hail, rain, some artificial rains of bodies and not of water, thunders, lightnings; also generations of bodies in air — as frogs, flies, and divers others.”

Canopied Structures

Canopied Structures

I had various ideas about the illustrations at the top of the lower right rosette. It was not until I was working up this model that I came to feel they represent (as others already have felt) two canopied, tasseled, columned buildings. Others have also felt that there is Jewish iconography in this rosette. This is interesting, as there was a Jewish community on the fictional island of Bensalem, from New Atlantis.

Of course these interpretations are subjective, and others be correct in their own assumptions. I also accept that there could be variations in modeling these pages in 3D. Rene Zandbergen has suggested to me that some of the rosettes, with radiating designs, are evocative of certain domed structures… and so, he suggested, I might like to create them as domes. He wrote,

“For the visual effect, I have some unsolicited comments: the central circle should probably be highest of all. It makes sense to have it as a plateau. It would be great to add the sky blanket in a transparent way, if possible. A few other circles could be domes.”

I like those ideas, and the many others I have received. And Elmar Vogt has a blog post, with some points of his own. So I hope that although I have my own interpretation of the images on the rosettes, and what they might mean, that these representations are still of use to others to draw their own conclusions. If anyone would like a high resolution rendering of any particular view, please write me.

The “Real” Book of Prospero, and Drebbel’s Scarlet Red

September 21, 2009

Every manuscript of Shakespeare’s is long lost, and almost every shred of his writing. A few signatures, and a few questionable lines in the plays of others, is all we have of his. And, as far as I know, all the costumes of the original performances, the props… there is nothing left. But imagine if there existed a real book, not a prop book, which symbolized one of the most important concepts in one of Shakespeare’s most important and influential works? This is arguably the case, and I actually held this book in my hands.

Cornelis Drebbel, from his "Elements"

Cornelis Drebbel, from his "Elements"

The character of Prospero, from the Tempest, is sometimes described as an autobiographical one. I agree with that line of thought… I do like the idea that Prospero voiced for Shakespeare his leaving the theater, of giving up his art for retirement. But besides the biography of Prospero, it is concurrently argued that he is partially inspired, and based on, Rudolf II of Prague, and Cornelis Drebbel. Robert Grudin makes this case in his 1991 article, “Rudolf II of Prague and Cornelis Drebbel: Shakespearean Archetypes?” (The Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3 (Summer 1991), pp. 181-205). After drawing similarities to the sciences and “magic” of both men to the works of Shakespeare, and to Prospero and his magical island, he concludes, “Shakespeare took aspects of both Rudolf and Drebbel for his characterization of Prospero.”



And so Cornelis Drebbel, one of the most forgotten yet influential men of the Renaissance, is not forgotten in the works of Shakespeare. In this case his influence has to be surmised… his works are not directly mentioned as they are by Ben Jonson or Francis Bacon; nor is the character as obvious as Jonson’s Subtle of the Alchemist… also based on Drebbel. But knowing the profound influence Drebbel did have on his contemporaries, and the close relation Shakespeare must have had to the court of James, to Jonson, and to Bacon, there can be no doubt that Drebbel must have had an influence on Shakespeare.

Given that, then, let’s look at the one known (although little-known) possession of Drebbel’s still in existence: A little book of alchemy by Basil Valentine which, it seems, Drebbel carried with him in his pocket for years. This would be the 1603 edition of Basil Valentine’s 1603 “Of Natural and Supernatural Things”, rebound with his 1602 Treatise on the Tincture of Metals. This book was apparently given by Drebbel’s son in law, Abraham Keuffler, after Drebbel’s death, to John Winthrop (12 February 1606 – 26 March 1676), governor of Connecticut. Winthrop had an interest in all things scientific, and reported on many personal observations and experiments directly to the British Royal Society. Perhaps the book was given to Winthrop when he visited London in 1641-1643. At any rate, the book followed Winthop back to the Colonies, and eventually ended up in New York City, in the collection of his works and papers in the New York Society Library.

Owned by Drebbel? Gnomen in the Adler Museum

Owned by Drebbel? Gnomon in the Adler Museum

Of course I was very interested in seeing this book. In my years of studying Drebbel I was painfully aware that everything the man constructed or possessed had long since disappeared or lost his attribution… save one small gnomon in the collection of the Adler museum… a device constructed when Drebbel was only about 2 years old, but possibly owned by him… as it has his name engraved on it. And then I became aware of this book. I made an appointment to see it in person… it was described as having many “nota bene”… margin notes… and the idea that some of these notes would contain a clue to my work with the Voynich, or possibly give hints as to the interests and work of Drebbel in some personal way, was intriguing. But of course there was an element of interest in the emotional power such an object this book would possess for me… a book owned and carried by a man I had found to be so important to history, having influenced Bacon’s philosophies and the New Atlantis, and then, though indirectly, the foundation of the Royal Society.

As all things go, we are sometimes surprised at what we find when we are looking for something else. For although Drebbel is famous for many things, or at least, should be… his submarine, his isolating and production of oxygen, his fine engravings for Goltzius (and his own)… his perpetual machines… his fine optical devices, including the first quality twin-convex-lensed microscopes (one of which was the very device Faber peered through, and so first coined the term “microscope”)… although Drebbel can hold claim to these and many other discoveries and inventions, he was most known for his discovery of a process for manufacturing a brilliant red cochineal dye, the “Drebbel Red”. Drebbel himself was unable to successfully commercialize this process, but his two sons in laws… the Keufflers… did. And one of these sons, Abraham, is the above mentioned son in law who gave Winthrop Drebbel’s little alchemal.

The exact process Drebbel used, and exactly how he came to it, is and has been a subject of long debate. The author Amy Butler Greenfield recounts the history and impact of Cochineal dyes in her excellent book, “A Perfect Red”, and has a very insightful chapter on Drebbel and his process. She also experimented with the process herself, and has a webpage showing the procedure and results. It remains that the famous red dye of Drebbel figures greatly in the history and industry of Europe. Given that, it might then be understood the excitement I felt when I discovered that a few of the pages of Drebbel’s personal alchemal tome were splashed with an unusual and brilliant red stain! As I wrote to Ms. Greenfield, “…I was very surprised to see that several of the pages are stained with splashes of a red dye. Now of course this could be just about anything, including cranberry juice or cherry soda. But considering the controversies and interest, and the historical significance of Drebbel’s actual dye process, I thought I would bring this to your attention.”

Again, we cannot know what the red is on the pages of this book. Ms. Greenfield agrees. But considering the historical importance of this dye process, perhaps it might be of interest to someone, at some point, to test the spill. It would be, to my knowledge, the only existing example of Drebbel’s original red dye.

Amy Butler Greenfields experiment

Amy Butler Greenfield's experiment

So like Drebbel’s cloudy legacy, touching on so much, but so silently, this book sits un-noticed in a small collection in New York … and yet represents powerful influences on both literature, and possibly, science and industry. It conceivably reflects not only one of the most profound literary concepts, a book of Prospero, but also possibly contains the last remaining evidence of one of the most important discoveries of the real Prospero, Drebbel’s Scarlet Red.