The Drebbel/Voynich Theory             -Click here for the blog

This page describes my theory about the possible origins, dating and content of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript. This theory proposes that the Voynich Manuscript may be a faux book, which was created between 1610 and 1620, and made to look as though it came from Francis Bacon's fictional island of New Atlantis. And as such, that it was made to look much older than it was, and that it includes a map of the fictional Bensalem, along with both real and fanciful representations of optics and other devices, flora and fauna, the Arts and sciences, astronomy and astrology. And, that much of this was reflected from past, real works, but distorted into an imaginative reflection of how the author thought they would have been perceived and practiced by the advanced, fictional culture of New Atlantis. The theory further supposes that it may have been created under the influence of, and possibly created by someone from, the circle of Francis Bacon's near contemporaries and their world. These include Cornelis Drebbel, Michael Maier, Solomon De Caus, Johann Valentin Andreae, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Simon Forman, Robert Fludd, among others.

I first show the imagery comparisons behind my reasoning that the Voynich Manuscript contains optics. If certain tubes in the Voynich are optics, it points to the possibility that the Rosicrucian alchemist and inventor, Cornelis Drebbel, may be the author, or somehow involved in its' creation. In 2006 I wrote an article for
Renaissance Magazine titled: The Voynich Manuscript: Drebbel's Lost Notebook?  (Issue #53, March 2007).  This theory began when I saw that certain objects in the Voynich bear a striking resemblance to early microscopes. 
If they are microscopes, then the author of the Voynich would have been very familiar with this technology. This points to Drebbel, because he was making and selling microscopes by 1620, and probably earlier, and actually made at least one "with three brass legs" (Peiresc letter, 1632). As it turns out, he was also appointed the Chief Alchemist to Rudolf II's court at about the time the Voynich first appears there. In the court, he rubbed elbows with Kepler, who wrote and published Dioptrice in 1610/11. Kepler described microscopes in this work. In addition, looking through the Voynich, and at Drebbel's style of illustration and artwork, I feel there are compelling similarities.

Francis Bacon's New Atlantis: After working on the project for several years, and a year and a half after the release of the Renaissance article, I've came to feel much less that the Voynich represents a real document. That is, I don't feel it represents all real items, processes or places. It seems to be a fictional manuscript, in other words. As such, I would no longer call it a "notebook". I came to these decisions for many reasons, but was led there by first noting
very interesting parallels between Francis Bacon's Utopia, The New Atlantis, and many of the illustrations in the VMs. The New Atlantis was partly inspired by Cornelis Drebbel and his inventions. Among the Drebbel-related inclusions are microscopes, the perpetual clock, the submarine, automatic fountains, and more. But both the Voynich and the New Atlantis, in addition to these (some speculative, as my optics are),  include baths with nudes, unidentifiable, grafted plants and unidentifiable animals, and more. If one were to construct a mock "Bible of New Atlantis", or Book of Solomon as it would have come from the fictional New Atantis, it would not look much different than the Voynich.

But as such, this has opened the possibility, within the theory, to a circle of influence, and less to one particular author. This circle would include Michael Maier, Robert Fludd, Francis Bacon, Drebbel, Simon Forman, Shakespeare, Solomon De Caus, Thomas Harriot, Andreae, and others. All these people were deeply involved in one or several of these disciplines: The Utopia, cipher and codes, artificial and Native American languages and characters, optics, fiction in art and literature, the New World and exploration, the Protestant cause in Europe, Rosicrucianism, alchemy and science. They were all very aware of each other's works, most knew the rest, personally. The more I learn about this circle, the more feel that it should be no surprise if a work such as the Voynich Ms. would be something someone from this group could, or would, create... for the purpose I propose. As for actual creation, I am looking most closely at Drebbel, Maier, and Fludd.

H. Richard SantaColoma

The Voynich "Microscopes"
The significance of these objects, if microscopes, is great. Our present understanding of the melding of alchemy and science, and the roots of the study of microscopy, would be altered.

On the left is an f88r tube from the Voynich. Next to it is a 3D computer image I made to recreate it as a "real object". For a texture I used moroccan leather from an image of a book, which looked close the the Voynich illustration's pattern. Note the bluish/green color the illustrator chose for the top of this object.

Various Microscopes from the 17th and 18th centuries. The lower left device is Galileo's microscope of circa-1610/14. It is covered in colored vellum. The upper right is also attributed to Galileo, 1609. The other devices post-date my theory by 10 to 50 years.

Close-up of the cap to the jar/microscope above. Note the shading/shaping lines, just visible in the blue-green area. These would only have been there to show a "shaping" to the surface... it was not flat, but convex... like a lens would be.

VMs artist uses this shading elsewhere,
as on this "pea", to show shaping.
Two "tubes" from the Voynich. It has continually surprised me that no-one had previously thought they may be microscopes, they look so similar. Note the recessed centers of the tops. They are drawn just as lenses, secured by rings, would be. And they have varying diameters, implying sliding tubes. Below is a representation of the two above tubes, recreated in CAD:

I am hard pressed to see any significant difference to the structure of the above 18th century microscopes, and the Voynich jars to the left. This image is from an 18th century Spanish optical book, which I am in the process of tracking down for better images, and complete descriptions.

So far, I can find no herbal jars which look like these VMs "jars". Most herb and pharmaceutical containers from the 14th through 17th centuries, while elaborate, take on a different form. For one thing, they usually have curved sides, bases and/or top, rather than the straight barrel sides of the "optical" VMS drawings. There are, however, other objects in the VMs which do like like jars, or something else. For instance, Egyptian perfume jars are a close match for many "curvy" VMs drawings. But for the straight sided, recessed top, multiple diameter tube/barrel VMs objects, the optical devices are a much better match.

This tube, from f102r, is shown on an additional page of 14 Voynich tubes which look very optical:
click here to see the page.

A 17th century microscope from the Museum of Science, Italy. Compare to the f102r tube shown to the left. Both are made of two diameters, with recessed tops, multiple "rings" at the top and bottom, and decorative elements on the green sections. Not an exact match, but the similarities are undeniable. Each observer must ask: Is the VMs drawing closer to the shown microscope, or closer to a jar, candle or something else? In the engraving above, we see the same form as this device... and both are microscopes. In the actual device, we see how they were often decorated and colored. And both the engraving and the actual item match closely the VMs drawing.
The tops on these jars do not at first seem very microscope-like. But compare the tops to the Magny 'scope to the right. I will now assume the cap on the Magny to be a protective cover, considering the evidence of the cut-a-way in the scope below.


This microscope is from an early 1700's book by Joblot. Compare to the "jars", above. the cut-a-way now explains the reason for the caps on these microscopes... they were a protective accessory. Also compare the knurling of this device, and the overall general shape of both "jars" above.

Nuremburg, 18th century. Note the cap, and the green and red vellum covering with decorative gilt tooling. Below, an Italian 17th century model:


A close-up of what could be knurling on the f88r tube. Compare this to the knurling on the Joblot 'scope above, and the 18th and 19th century examples to the right. Knurling is used to get a grip on the different sections for adjustment and disassembly.

In microscopes, the more complex ones use knurling, and the simpler (two tube sliding) devices often do not. In the VMs, the more elaborate tubes often have these lines, and the simpler ones do not.

Kepler's Dioptrice, 1611
In 1611, while in the court of Rudolf II, Kepler published his book on optical theory, Dioptrice. In the book he describes convex and concave lenses, and how they work, and how they work in combinations in telescopes and microscopes. There are many diagrams such as the one to the left, from page 44. Here is a quote from the Mccord Museum website, "In 1611, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) suggested the construction of a compound microscope that used convex lenses for both the objective and the eyepiece. The Kepler microscope provided a larger field of view and became the prototype of the modern microscope."

This was the first confirmation I could find that there were microscopes in the court of Rudolf. Not only microscopes, but microscopy experimentation, which reflect the implications of the variety of VMs tubes.

Drebbel was in the court of Rudolf, alongside Kepler, at the same time. Who made these lenses and microscopes for Kepler? Drebbel was an experienced lens grinder and lens glass maker and experimenter at the time he entered the court. It defies logic that Kepler would have ignored that fact while working on Dioptrice, and the included devices. Also,
Drebbel is known to be the first to build one with twin convex lenses (the previous Janssen's had one convex and one concave). Kepler is the first person to descibe a microscope with twin convex lenses, in Dioptrice, in 1611, while Drebbel was working in the same place. So Drebbel enters the court, with Kepler in it, making lenses, and leaves claiming to be able to make telescopes, and making microscopes of the type Kepler described. Did he build none while in the court? Furthermore, do you suppose that no one thought to use these microscopes, nor record their results... somewhere?

Interestingly, this is the only optical design I have found which matches the "waist" of the f88r jar. The proportions are different, but not by much, and the lenses of page 44 match the changes in diameter, and the "knurling", of the jar. Click here.

Kepler also owned a telescope about 1610-1611, and it's design was "based on that of Galileo's" device. To the left is a portion of an accurate modern replica of Galileo's telescope. The entire telescope is much longer, this is only one end. You can see the replica, made by Jim & Rhoda Morris, and how it was created, at this excellent site.

We do not know what Kepler's telescope actually looked like. But the point is that in the period, this is how an optical device was envisioned and created. It is not a leap to imagine there was an optical instrument, in the court, which looked much like the Galileo version to the left. Note the coloring, tooling, varying diameters, and compare to the VMs tubes.

The VMs contains what many have believed to be star observations, and possibly even constellations. In fact it has often been suggested that the author of the VMs may have at least had access to a telescope. Drebbel pleaded with James I, in 1612, to let him come back to London. He professed to be able to build a telescope able to "read a letter at a country mile". Where did he learn to do this?

Other optical connections:

Does this microscope have similarities to the Voynich tubes? This is a 1658 Kircher microscope. Kircher made the first report of seeing micro-organisms with the microscope, which he made himself.

Kircher also accumulated a vast collection of scientific and alchemal equipment and literature. He constructed many fountains, clocks, musical instruments and automatia. Many of these devices, including his design for the microscope, seem to be influenced by the inventions of Cornelis Drebbel. Many devices were powered by the same pneumatic and hydraulic princples Drebbel used. It is believed by some that Kircher "borrowed" heavily from the lore of Drebbel. There is even a Drebbel thermoscope pictured in one engraving of Kircher's museum.

Coincidentally, Kircher was an early hope to decypher the Voynich. As early as 1639 he was provided with copies of text from the manuscript. He was later given pages, and by 1665, it seems, he received the whole work. It is not known whether Kircher made any progress in his attempts to break the secrets of the Voynich... but the fact that he had such a strong outpouring of "Drebbelesque" technologies bears note. That, and the fact that some have thought the actual first sightings of microscopic life might be in the Voynich, and the first known sightings of microscopic life, again, was Kircher, in 1658.

And again, does this microscope have similarities to Voynich tubes? To Kircher's microscope, above? This is Hooke's famous instrument, which he used to examine insects, cork cells, and whatnot. He published his findings in Micrographia, in the 1660's.

There is a Drebbel connection here, too, in that Hooke had an ongoing association with Drebbel's daughter for several years. It is not known all that Hooke gleaned from this association, but considering that Drebbel was a microscope pioneer, and that Hooke was another, it is considered likely that micrsocopy was among the topics passed along.

In Tierie's 1932 biography of Drebbel, "If we inspect Hooke's own microscope we find that it shows a strong resemblence to Drebbel's...", and "...this not to be wondered at, when we remember that, Hooke was intimately aquainted with the Kuffler's [Drebbel's son's in law] and also with Drebbel's daughter".

So here we have two Voynich-tube-like microscopes, the makers of which are connected to Drebbel, and one even, to the Voynich itself.

Voynich microscopic images?

To the left is one of many unidentified plants in the Voynich. Over the years others have surmised some of these may be illustrations of microscopic flora and fauna. Some look like cells, veins, fungi, mold, cells and diatoms. This theory would explain two things: If they do not look quite like they should, we might forgive this as the very earliest microscopes may have been incapable of the detail possible decades later. And then the second... the fact that these plants have remained unidentified... for why would someone draw "fake" plants? It is more likely they drew the best, but inaccurate, representations of what they actually saw.      

"Wheel", or circle, from the Voynich. These wheels have been compared to many circles from alchemy texts, but some have thought them diatoms. Look at some wheels from other manuscripts, then look at the diatom to the right.

Diatom from William B. Carpenter's 19th century "The Microscope and its Revealations". The scientific name of this diatom is Arachnoidiscus Japonicus (Plate XII, after page 526). Note these features, comparing the two: The alternate thick and thin walls, the rays forming a star-like pattern in the "hub, and the rounded ends to the cells compared to the "lozenges" on the Voynich. Click here for labeled overlay comparison.

To the left is the "root" of the "sunflower" in the VMs. Above is another aquatic organism from Carpenter's work, described above. I have found that many marine creatures and plants have this "WWII floating mine" form. Several, such as this one, are represented as green with white rods.

78r "barrels"

Diatoms, approximately 75x


The f86v foldout pages has been compared in the past to cells with cillia, and also diatoms. It does resemble, somewhat, a collection of diatoms as viewed at low power under a light microscope. Would a 17th century discoverer of diatom structure see, or add, cities and fountains? Or whimisically decrorate them, in an imaginative, but un-scientific, inference to compare the micro world to the macro? Or is it simply a map? See the New Atlantis connections, below.

The New Atlantis

Francis Bacon wrote New Atlantis sometime between 1610 and the early 1620's, but it was first published after his death in 1626. Bacon used the model of his fictional island of Bensalem as a sounding board for his ideas on politics, science, society and religion. In this utopia, science was paramount to the advancement of the society as a whole. Inventions and inventors were lauded by the people, and encouraged by the government.

It has been long noted that many of the inventions cited in New Atlantis were most likely based on inventions and devices made by Cornelis Drebbel. Among these are the submarine, the microscope, and a type of "perpetual" clock. This is not too surprising, as Drebbel and Bacon shared rooms at Eltham Palace... they had contact with one another, and Bacon had a fascination with new inventions and discoveries. Bacon actually commented on Drebbel's work, and in one instance expressed frustration at his reliance on the "magical effect" of his perpetual clock, when he would have preferred and open scientific discourse on it's method of operation.

In reading New Atlantis, I was not only struck by the previously noted (by others) inclusion of Drebbelesque devices, but also by some striking similarities to the Voynich Manuscript. What it means I do not know, of course, and can only speculate. But perhaps there was some sharing of ideas in New Atlantis with the author of the Voynich... perhaps with Drebbel. Perhaps the Voynich somehow influenced Bacon's utopia, or vice versa. Perhaps it was created as some sort of companion artifact of the New Atlantis, or to convince someone that the fictional Bensalem truly existed. Although this is pure speculation, I do not believe any document, other than New Atlantis, has so many similarities to the Voynich. Below are some images from the VMs, along with text from New Atlantis. And here is a complete copy of New Atlantis. For an overview of my theories, explaining more about them, click here. H.R. SantaColoma

The New Atlantis/Voynich Similarities:

"I have read in a book of one of your men, of a Feigned Commonwealth, where
the married couple are permitted, before they contract, to see one
another naked.  This they dislike; for they think it a scorn to give a
refusal after so familiar knowledge: but because of many hidden
defects in men and women's bodies, they [the New Atlanteans] have a more civil way; for they have near every town a couple of pools, (which they call Adam and
Eve's pools), where it is permitted to one of the friends of the men,
and another of the friends of the woman, to see them severally bathe naked."
-Francis Bacon, New Atlantis
     The Voynich has many baths and pools, filled with naked women, which have so far remained enigmatic. In addtion to the "Adam and Eve" pools, Bacon describes healing baths with tinctured water, used to prolong life and cure disease. It is often suggested that the pools of the Voynich may represent healing or birthing baths.
"In these we practise likewise all conclusions of grafting, and inoculating, as well of wild-trees as fruit-trees, which produceth many effects. And we make (by art) in the same orchards and gardens, trees and flowers to come earlier or later than their seasons; and to come up and bear more speedily than by their natural course they do. We make them also by art greater much than their nature; and their fruit greater and sweeter and of differing taste, smell, colour, and figure, from their nature. And many of them we so order, as they become of medicinal use."

"We have dispensatories, or shops of medicines. Wherein you may easily think, if we have such variety of plants and living creatures more than you have in Europe, (for we know what you have,) the simples, drugs, and ingredients of medicines, must likewise be in so much the greater variety."

"We have also means to make divers plants rise by mixtures of earths
without seeds; and likewise to make divers new plants, differing from
the vulgar; and to make one tree or plant turn into another."

-Francis Bacon, New Atlantis

Most of the plants in the Voynich have remained unidentified. Many also show
signs of grafting, having points on the roots and limbs where their diameters suddenly
change. As for orchards, f85v, panel 2, shows what appears to be three people picking fruit or vegatables, and wheat.
Here are two of them:

On animals, "...Also we make them differ in
colour, shape,activity,many ways. We find
means to make commixtures and copulations of
different kinds; which have produced many
new kinds..."

In the Voynich, the animals have been a mystery.
They are for the most part, unidentifiable. By
comparison, the animals in New Atlantis would
be unidentifiable, as they are of "many new
kinds". However I have been moving toward
the idea the the lower right creature may be an

"We have also helps for the sight, far above spectacles and glasses in use. We have also glasses and means to see small and minute bodies perfectly and distinctly; as the shapes and colours of small flies and worms, grains and flaws in gems, which cannot otherwise be seen; observations in urine and blood, not otherwise to be seen." -Francis Bacon, New Atlantis

See the optical portion of this theory, above, which makes comparisons between many of the tubes in the
Voynich with early microscopes and telescopes.

This image from the bottom of f79r shows what appears to be a floating man, with an arm hooked around a peg through a tube... also floating. There is another peg, seen submerged, also passing through the large tube.

From New Atlantis, "We have ships and boats for going under water and brooking of seas, also swimming-girdles and supporters..."

f85v-1 arguably depicts a fountain of some kind. the center blue swirls could easily be water, especially since the 4 tubes or paths radiating from the center end with an obvious "spewing" or "spraying" effect. That alone is significant to the New Atlantis, as it is written, "We have also a number of artificial wells and fountains, made in imitation of the natural sources and baths..."

But the significance of this goes further, because Bacon was writing of the inventions of Drebbel and DeCaus when he spoke of artifical fountains. These were powered by the heat of the sun on a chamber, causing an expansion of a trapped volume of air, which forced the water out of tubes, to spray as a fountain. Solar fountains. And this illustration shows a sun in the center. So it not only shows what is conceivably an artifical fountain, but possibly a Drebbelesque one at that. Kircher built these, too, and I can only wonder what he thought, when he saw this page. And he did see it, by all indications.

What are the people holding? I don't know. I was originally looking at them as Rosicrucian symbols... but I see nothing so close... except, perhaps for this one, which is a bit like an RC fleur-de-lis. This one is a bit like an orb with a cap (both measuring instruments?), and this woman is either inserting or removing what looks like garlands into, or out of, the water chamber.
A New Atlantean, on writings delivered to them by miracle: "There was also in both these writings, as well the Book, as the Letter, wrought a great miracle, conform to that of the Apostles, in the original Gift of Tongues. For there being at that time in this land Hebrews, Persians, and Indians, besides the natives, every one read upon the Book, and Letter, as if they had been written in his own language."-Francis Bacon, New Atlantis

The "Gift of Tongues", or "glossolalia", is the speaking of an unintelligible language, presumed to be the language of angels. In the context F.Bacon uses it, the language is understandable by anyone who speaks any language. In the Kennedy/Churchill book on the VMs, it is pointed out that "some researchers" into the VMs have believed the text may reflect glossolalia.

But Bacon's description often interpreted as an example of his form of  universal language, or as he called it, "Alphabet of Nature". A wonderful paper by Robert Batchelor of Stanford explains Bacon's interest and intent in such a language, and points out how Descartes felt it would only work in a fantasy world as New Atlantis. The article can be found here. The section II, "From Cipher to Code", refers to Bacon. This is also of interest, as the well known Voynich researcher, Friedman, suspected the VMs was written in a universal language.

"He had on him a gown with wide sleeves, of a kind of water chamolet, of an excellent azure colour, fair more glossy than ours; his under apparel was green; and so was his hat, being in the form of a turban, daintily made, and not so huge as the Turkish turbans; and the locks of his hair came down
below the brims of it."-New Atlantis

Not an exact match... but the woman on the right has a blue gown with wide sleeves. And she appears to be meeting the man on the left, who has a more traditional Renaissance garb.... and a green hat, with the hair coming down below the brim. The point being that the New Atlantis, which was written sometime between 1610 and 1624, does have clothing mentioned which is close to the clothing shown in the Voynich.

"We have high towers; the highest about half a mile in height; and
some of them likewise set upon high mountains; so that the vantage of
the hill with the tower is in the highest of them three miles at least.
And these places we call the Upper Region; accounting the air
between the high places and the low, as a Middle Region. We use these
towers, according to their several heights, and situations, for
insolation, refrigeration, conservation; and for the view of divers
meteors; as winds, rain, snow, hail; and some of the fiery meteors

In the Voynich, the rosettes page's upper center rosette seems to be
a "height" (see below). In the center of the star pattern is what seems
to be a tower, shown at left. It actually faces downward on the page,
I've rotated it 180 degrees. I don't feel this is too improper, as the buildings
on the rosettes page(s) are facing in all different directions... there
is no set "projection" for this scene.

"...these towers, according to their several heights, and situations..."

Well here is certainly an odd "situation"... a tower, in a hole. Above it, another
hole. Now this, from New Atlantis, "
We have large and deep
caves of several depths: the deepest are sunk six hundred fathom: and
some of them are digged and made under great hills and mountains..."

This image is from the rosettes page, and is the "west side" of the central upper
rosette, from which I cropped the tower in the image above. If you look at the
sides of this image, you can clearly see the intention was to show a great height.
Click on the image for a large view.
Click here to see the "east" side
of the central rosette, which similarly implies a great height.

I find it fascinating that in New Atlantis you have descriptions of these observation
towers of great height, on mountains, and of deep caves... and in the the
Voynich there is this seemingly fantastical, and unidentifiable (so far), arrangement
of towers and mountains.

This is the upper right hand corner of the rosette page from the Voynich. the circle with the "T" in it closely resembles a T/O map, which represented, in medieval times, the known world. The upper portion faced East, and represented Asia. The lower left was Europe, and the lower right, Africa. The "T" was the Mediterranean Sea. In this image, you can see paths connecting the corresponding Europe and Asian portions of the (possible) T/O map, with the upper right rosette. If this is a T/O map, and the rest of the rosettes page is also a map (as it well may be, as it has buildings and paths on it), then the intention of the artist can arguably be interpreted as showing a place outside of Europe, Asia and Africa.

From New Atlantis:
"When the king had forbidden to all his people navigation into any part that was not under his
crown, he made nevertheless this ordinance; that every twelve years there should be set forth, out of this kingdom
two ships, appointed to several voyages; That in either of these ships there should be a mission of three of the
Fellows or Brethren of Salomon's House; whose errand was only to give us knowledge of the affairs and state of those
countries to which they were designed, and especially of the sciences, arts, manufactures, and inventions
of all the world; and withal to bring unto us books, instruments, and patterns in every kind..." And:
"For the several employments and offices of our fellows; we have twelve that sail into foreign countries, 
under the names of other nations, (for our own we conceal); who bring us the books, and abstracts, and
patterns of experiments of all other parts. These we call Merchants of Light."

From New Atlantis:

"Only this I must tell you, that none of
you must go above a karan,' (that is with
them a mile and an half) 'from the walls
of the city, without especial leave."

This statement refers to Renfusa.
The two important points are that it is walled,
and that it is the first city the sailors visit.

The rosettes page from the Voynich shows
what can be interpreted as a walled city in
the upper right. It seems to be connected with
a "path" to the T/O map shown above.

As it turns out, it is not unheard of to find utopias illustrated in literature. In fact it was quite common.
I've put together this page listing several of them. Many of these illustrations are from, or close, to the time frame this
and the Voynich/Drebbel theory speculate the Voynich was actually created.

List of Voynich links:
Voynich Blogs:
Internal Voynich Links:
Microscope & Telescope sites, collections & museums:
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