Eton, Eton College Library, MS 177, fols. 1-8

Eton Roundels Facsimile Edition

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The Eton Roundels are eight leaves dating from around 1260-1270 bound with a contemporary illuminated Apocalypse manuscript. An unusual survival of Gothic illumination, the series of miniatures derives its name from the composition of the twelve full-page illustrations: each page features five circular drawings, one in the center and four in the corners, as well as two additional half-circles to the left and right of the center. There are a total of eighty-four brightly-colored vignettes set within decorative frameworks.

Made in England, the Eton Roundels serve as a record of the Christian interest in typological picture cycles, which draw parallels between episodes in the Old and New Testaments. Also known as the Figurae Bibliorum, the roundels depict scenes from Genesis (Creation through the Death of Abel), followed by scenes from the life of Christ and the early history of the Church, with personified virtues and Old Testament types. The text is limited to descriptive captions in Latin written in the roundels' frames.

A Gothic Pattern Book?

The purpose of the Eton Roundels is unclear. Their somewhat informal quality and irregular composition suggest that the work was not initially intended as a finished product and was rather for the use of the artist. The paintings may have served as a guide for large-scale work, such as stained glass or mural painting. Another possibility is that an artist copied the roundels from one or many sources to assemble a pattern book for personal reference. Whatever their genesis and purpose, the images were initially tinted drawings that were later overpainted, with details of the faces touched up, probably by the artist responsible for the miniatures in the Apocalypse with which they were bound.

English Interpretation of the French Gothic

The Roundels exhibit the English features of plump foliage, pear-shaped heads, and highly detailed eyes combined with the characteristically French Gothic angular, broad drapery folds and S-shaped figures. While certainly drawn in England, it is difficult to localize the Eton Roundels. Iconographic parallels are present throughout the country, suggesting that the leaves record images that enjoyed wide distribution. It has also been mooted that the images copy the lost painted decoration of the chapter house of Worcester cathedral.

Remarkable Illuminations with Unknown Origins

The ownership of the Roundels and the accompanying Eton Apocalypse is unknown before 1690 when the composite manuscript was given to Stuart Bickerstaffe by Sir John Sherard. Eton College acquired the manuscript in 1817 from George Henry Pitt.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Eton Roundels": The Eton Roundels: Eton College MS 177 ("Figurae bibliorum") – a colour facsimile facsimile edition, published by Scolar Press, 1990

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Manuscript book description compiled by Amy R. Miller.
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The Eton Roundels: Eton College MS 177 ("Figurae bibliorum") – a colour facsimile

London: Scolar Press, 1990

  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Eton Roundels: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

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