It became known who sold the Voynich manuscript to Emperor Rudolf

(ORDO NEWS) — A German scientist discovered in the archives of the Holy Roman Empire information about who the alchemist ruler once bought a mysterious parchment from.

From time to time, loud headlines appear in the media, informing the reader that the mysterious Voynich manuscript has finally been deciphered.

Each such message leads to a refutation : the book, written in an unknown language and provided with mysterious botanical illustrations, has not yet been solved.

The manuscript takes its name from the Polish antiquarian and bookseller Wilfred Voynich, who discovered it in 1912 at the Jesuit college of Frascati near Rome.

Radiocarbon dating has placed the manuscript’s creation between 1404 and 1438. But the earliest mention of it in historical sources dates back to 1639.

It became known who sold the Voynich manuscript to Emperor Rudolf 2
Letter from Johann Marzi regarding the manuscript

This is a letter from the Prague alchemist Jiří Bares to the Jesuit linguist Athanasius Kircher. Baresh was the owner of the manuscript at the time and sent a copy of the glyphs to Kircher in the hope that he could translate them.

Kircher, like hundreds of his followers, did not succeed, but the Jesuit was hooked on the riddle and he wanted to buy the book. Baresh refused.

Kircher eventually received the book in 1665. Then it was inherited by a friend of Baresh, the royal physician Johann Marzi, and sent to Kircher.

The cover letter contains another valuable hint about the history of ownership of the manuscript. Marzi said that at one time the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II bought the book for a huge sum of 600 ducats.

Rudolph II acquired a rather peculiar reputation during his lifetime: he was fond of the occult sciences and alchemy, he was looking for the philosopher’s stone, he made friends with John Dee and Edward Kelly.

There is nothing surprising in the fact that the mysterious manuscript attracted the attention of the emperor.

The problem is that in the imperial archives there is no evidence of the acquisition of this manuscript by Rudolf, and even for that kind of money.

The budget of an imperial librarian at the time was 1,000 florins (another gold coin equivalent in value to a ducat) for three years, so spending 600 on a single book would be unthinkable.

The manuscript does not appear either in the inventory of the public imperial library or in the personal library of the ruler.

Now Stefan Gusi from the Bremen University of the Arts (Germany) has turned to other archives. He studied the imperial ledgers kept at the court of Rudolf II and discovered entries that could shed light on the sale of the manuscript to the emperor.

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The history of ownership of the manuscript is no less mysterious than its content, but here we can rely to some extent on written sources

Guzi planned to find all the entries that mentioned a deal for 600 gold coins, and choose from them the one that mentioned books.

But I didn’t have to choose. Of the nearly 7,000 entries in the journal, including 126 book transactions, only one case involved the purchase of books for 600 gold coins.

From the records it became known that in 1599 the physician Carl Wiedemann sold a collection of manuscripts to Rudolf for 500 silver thalers.

The monetary affairs of the Holy Roman Empire were rather complicated: under Rudolph silver jumped in price.

Therefore, something happened that normally does not happen: 500 silver thalers at that time became equivalent to 600 gold ducats or florins.

In yet another entry, the collection is referred to as “remarkable/rare books”. They were reportedly transported in a small box.

We emphasize that we are not talking about one manuscript, but about a certain number of books – and then the amount of the transaction no longer looks so implausible.

But if Wiedemann was the owner of the manuscript before Rudolf, how did it get into his hands?

Gusi reports that Wiedemann lived in Augsburg, in the home of the famous botanist Dr. Leonhard Rauwolf, and he began selling books to the emperor immediately after the death of Rauwolf and his widow, who had no children.

Whether it was the will of the late botanist or Wiedemann independently disposed of his ownerless property – we are unlikely to ever know.

It is only clear that he chose the right buyer: the alchemist emperor simply could not ignore such a mysterious manuscript.


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