Monday, February 17, 2014

No one here but us "nymphs"

This is a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder (Lucas Cranach der Ältere, c. 1472 – 16 October 1553), a German Renaissance painter.

Titled Der Jungbrunnen, or The Fountain of Youth, it has recently been held up for comparison to the bathers in the Voynich manuscript. It depicts old women being carted in to be plunged into this fountain and become young again. And on the right you can see the youthful maidens emerging from the pool, entering a tent nude, and coming out again clothed and pregnant. It's hard to say whether Cranach is critiquing the idea of the Fountain of Youth as a desire factory or buying into it.

But what is remarkable to the Cranach when compared to the Voynich is this:

Look closely. Notice anything? They are all the same woman. She might have her hair pulled this way, that way, or up, she might be sad here and giggling there, but it's the same face over and over and over. At the bottom there, she's wrestling with herself. Certainly you can find male Renaissance painters who do not, when doing a group scene like this, paint the same woman over and over and over. Cranach did. She holds nothing, she does nothing but cavort. She is meant to be nothing but a nymph--something to lead into the tent and with any luck not impregnate.

Now let's return to the Voynich bathers. Granted, they're all fair-skinned and tending toward blond, but the facial features are not the same woman over and over. Look: Asa does NOT look like Ellusa.

Nor is there any lettering above the heads of Cranach's nymphs that we might make the wild assumption could be names of individuals. Why would there be such a thing for Cranach's bathers? As the old saying goes, A rose is a rose...unless you're, perhaps, a female painter and these women are your friends.

Here is another painting by Cranach of women holding postures popular for ladies of that day, minimizing the shoulders and spine so drastically as to recall Ninjago's Pythor.

In addition to allowing women to have shoulders and a spine, there is another phenomenon throughout the Voynich that, say what you will, point to women as the authors, whereas Cranach and his ilk can get quite brutal about this. As old as many of these woman obviously are--nope, they never sag. 

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