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VMs: Map diagram... updated hypothesis...
Because I've suspected a connection between the VMS and Milan for a while,
I've recently been to the latter to have a look at it for myself, to see it
for myself. While there, my wife and I met up with Sergio Toresella and his
family, who were almost too fantastic and kind to us for words. :-)
Anyway: having now travelled out to Abiategrasso for the day, I can say
with some confidence that my original hypothesis - that the castle was
Abbiategrasso, etc - was very probably wrong. But we had a nice day there
and visited a 15th Century mill, so it was far from wasted.
I also went to the Castello Sforzesco, most of which was closed (bah!).
However, much to my amazement, while there I found a picture of a 15th
Century circular map of Milan, which I've now found three versions of.
There's a pretty good scan of one on the web, on a site largely devoted to
Milanese proverbs and old photos:-
Where did this come from? As I understand it, it all goes back to Ptolemy's
In 1408-1409, Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia made the the first Latin
translation of Ptolemy's Geographia, which included a table of longitudes
and latitudes for European cities. Within 20 years, people started to
produce manuscripts of the Geographia with hand-drawn maps.
The set of maps we're particularly interested in here was done by Jacopo
del Massajo in 1428, which also included a number of maps of significant
Italian towns - most notably, Rome, Florence, and Milan. These maps were
extensively copied: one website says:-
By the middle of the century, increasingly opulent manuscripts
of the "Geography," mostly from Florence, had become
fashionable as conspicuous displays of wealth; and travellers
and explorers as well as scholars read them.
Unlike the other towns, Massajo's map of Milan is circular, echoing the
general shape of the moat/canal around the city. The three copies (note
that there are many differences between them) of this map made by Pietro
del Massajo I've found so far are:-
(1) Codex Latinus Parisinus 4802 at BnF, f131v (dated to 1456)
(2) Codex Vat. Urbinate 277, f.129v (dated to 1472)
(3) Codex Vat. Lat. 5699 (dated to 1459)
Note that a facsimile edition of the whole of Latinus 4802 was published in
Paris in 1926 - the Warburg Institute has a copy, but I haven't had a
chance to see it yet.
I also found another circular map of Milan (dated to the second half of the
15th Century), which is in Galvano Fiamma's "Chronica Extravagans", held in
the Biblioteca Ambrosiano in Milan. There's a copy of this in Empio
Malara's 1996 "Milano Citta Porto", which I picked up a copy of in Hoepli's
in Milan - this also has a copy of the 1456 circular map in Latinus 4802.
An even better book on Milan is "Le città nella storia d'Italia : Milano"
(1982), by Lucio Gambi and Maria Cristina Gozzoli. This works hard to link
up the buildings in all the circular maps with actual historical buildings
in Milan. There's also what looks to be an excellent hypothetical plan of
Milan at the end of the 15th Century in "L'architettura del Quattrocento a
Milano", Luciano Patetta, Ed. Clup, Milano 1987 (Malara has a diagram from
it, though I haven't seen the whole book yet).
The Fiamma map doesn't have the same rendering finesse as the Massajo
map(s), but once you get the hang of how it works, it actually has quite a
lot of fairly hard diagrammatic information - for example, the distance in
braccia (=0.595m) between each of the porta (city gates). Note that this
same kind of information reappears in Leonardo da Vinci's sketch of Milan's
canals in Codice Atlantico f73v-a.
The question now is: OK, Nick, these are all circular maps (as many of us
suspect that the VMS map page is in some way)... but what on earth do they
have to do with the Voynich?
I'm not 100% of the way there yet: but my hypothesis is that the "castle"
circle on the VMS map page is - like all the other circular 15th Century
map pages I've found - a diagram of Milan, made in 1451 or later... and I
think I can identify each of the features on it, all of which appear on all
of the Massajo maps. So: here goes...
I think that the castle at the top is the Castello Sforzesco: note that the
old (square merlon) castle was pulled down in the Ambrosian Republic just
before 1450, and rebuilt by Francesco Sforza from 1451 onwards (with
swallow-tail merlons). If you look at the Massajo maps, the castle there
has a central square tower (later known as the Tower of Bona of Savoy),
with - as Petr Kazil pointed out on the VMS castle, from the Kraus copy of
the VMS - what looks like a wooden tower with a round ball on the top.
Going anticlockwise around the ring: the next building I think is a kind of
shorthand for what Gambi and Gozzoli identify as "the Palazzo of Giovanni
Ricci", based on the pointed roof with one of the two two-tiered structures
The next building round I think is, again, a shorthand for the cupola of
San Lorenzo, which is a very distinctive building.
I should perhaps be more precise by what I mean by "shorthand" - my idea is
that as you approached Milan, these are the tops of the buildings you'd see
just above the city walls. In this way, these VMS sketches code not only
for the building, but also for the section of the city you're approaching
(from outside). San Lorenzo, for example, is what you'd see from the other
side of the Porta Ticinese, which is what connects Milan to the Naviglio
I haven't 100% identified the building eight at the bottom of the VMS
castle circle yet: but this is because Gambi and Gozzoli aren't sure
either. On two of the Massajo maps, it's marked as "san mabiri" and "san
mabiro": G&G say (if my translation is correct) that Ratti identifies this
church (phonetically) with San Babila [which nowadays is the street and
Metro station just down from the Duomo], but that, even though they're a
bit skeptical, this seems fairly reasonable.
This seems reasonable to me too: but there's another (later) map of Milan
that captures what appears to be the VMS church really well. It's the
"Pianta prospettica di Milano", 1578, by Nunzio Gallizzi (also known as
Nunzio Galliti), to commemorate the city's survival of the plague:-
Here's another site with a cleaner version of the image:-
BTW: the first site has lots of old photographs and drawings of Milanese
Unfortunately, I can't find a decent close-up scan of the church on p.102
of "Milano Citta Porto" that Galliti depicted... but I'll post one here
when I find it. I should perhaps point out that on Petr Kazil's
hand-enhanced sketch of the church, and both of the Massajo maps I've seen,
they all have a ball on the top of the spire.
OK... so this is where I stick my neck out, by trying to bring it all my
research and observations together into a coherent hypothesis. I think that
the "castle circle" on the VMS' map page is Milan, depicted after 1450
(when the castle was in ruins) but before 1467 (when the castle's corner
towers were remodelled, IIRC - but I need to check this). This map was
probably constructed by someone who had seen Massajo's circular map of
Milan (but that doesn't rule lots of people out, because there were
probably numerous copies throughout Italy back then).
If you're looking at the "castle circle" with the castle at the top, then I
believe that the exit to the left is the Naviglio Grande, going off towards
Abbiategrasso (the far left circle?). The Navigli had a number of mills
along them, and I suspect that the middle circles (of the outer eight)
represent the raw hydrodynamic power of the mills, like the "Pazza Biraga"
mill my wife and I visited.
The spiral of text in the middle of the castle circle is interesting. There
are numerous internal canals inside Milan that seem to swirl around the
centre: there are thought to be some lost canals under the streets (one of
the books I bought there has an article on this, but my Italian reading
speed is fairly slow, so please bear with me), so this could quite
plausibly be representing some kind of Milanesi folk mythology about the
layout of the canals. There was certainly a small lagoon of some sort near
the Duomo that was used to bring the building materials into the centre of
town (by barge, from the Naviglio Grande), so some kind of connection
wouldn't be *totally* unlikely.
The Nirone river leads away from town very near the castle, so this could
well be what leads away to the top of the castle (to the circle above it).
Alternatively, this might be the Naviglio Martesana, which became a very
major route into (and out of Milan) during the second half of the 15th
Century. However, be aware that construction on the Martesana wasn't
thought to have begun until 1457, so this would move the earliest date for
the VMS forward to at least then.
It could also well be that the stylised shapes that bridge between the
inner circle of the "castle circle" and the outer circle might well
represent bridges, or perhaps the arches and porticos that the various city
gates had. Note that this is just a suggestion right now, so I'd need to
look at these more carefully to get a fuller view. The CopyFlo is
particularly diabolical on this page. :-(
Any cribs arising from this? If I had to suggest any, I'd point to the
labels near the "castle circle". However, I should caution that I can
barely read them on the CopyFlo, so I'm not really in a position to say how
accurate the transcription is. If Petr is going past the library with
H.P.Kraus' book in, checking these label texts over might prove very handy. :-)
(1) By the Castello Sforzesco...
# road between NE and N rosettes, suspect, closest to castle
(2) By San Lorenzo ("San Laurenca"), on the Naviglio Grande...
# NE rosette, inside text ring, by southern tower
(3) Two labels, one either side of the Naviglio Grande...
# next to road between NE and E rosettes, West side
# next to road between NE and E rosettes, East side
Oh, and there was one last thing. I mentioned that the second building
round was the Palazzo of Giovanni Ricci: I wonder if he was any relation to
the Cardinal Giovanni Ricci of Montepulciano who founded the Villa
Mondragone in Frascati in 1562? :-)
That's enough typing for one week... :-o
Cheers, .....Nick Pelling.....
PS: I'm fully aware that it might be difficult to convince anyone of this
link with Milan: it's far too close to an "art history proof", when what a
lot of you would like the closure of a "smoking gun" proof. Unfortunately,
my use of (basically) art history methodology probably provides an upper
limit on the strength of proof. But until someone figures out the code(s),
this may well be as good as we can get... :-/