Eton Roundels

Eton Roundels – Scolar Press – MS 177, part 1 – Eton College Library (Eton, United Kingdom)

Probably near Worcester, England (United Kingdom) — Second half of the 13th century

The biblical world as seen through the eyes of medieval people, compressed into 12 pages and 60 medallion miniatures: an exceptional example of the rich tradition of English Apocalypse manuscripts

  1. Each page has five medallions and two half-medallions depicting biblical types and antitypes

  2. An enthroned and crowned female figure representing a virtue can be found in each bas-de-page

  3. Created during the 1260’s, the coveted manuscript was rebound in the late 17th century

Eton Roundels

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Eton Roundels

English Apocalypse manuscripts, especially those from the Gothic period, were some of the most extraordinary and influential specimens of their genre. The Eton College Library holds a composite manuscript of English Apocalypse texts under the shelf mark MS 177, the first part of which is known as “The Eton Roundels”. It comprises 12 pages, each consisting of five medallions and two half-medallions depicting biblical types and antitypes from the Old and New Testaments. Each page is designed with a circular medallion at the center and at each corner with the two half-medallions placed on the sides. An enthroned and crowned female figure representing a virtue can be found in each bas-de-page along with a précis of one of the Ten Commandments. Created during the 1260’s, the manuscript was rebound in the late 17th century before being given as a gift from Sr John Sherard of Lobthorp in Lincolnshire to Stuart Bickerstaffe.

Eton Roundels

The Figurae Bibliorum, commonly known as the Eton Roundels after the prestigious boarding school where they reside, is a unique work of English Gothic illumination from ca. 1260. Its design consisting of roundels arranged in a regular scheme resembles that of other typological works like Biblia Pauperum and Speculum Humanae Salvationis and is noteworthy for its often-idiosyncratic iconography. A document that has recently been uncovered indicates that the Eton Roundels were copied from a series of paintings on the ceiling of the Worcester Cathedral Chapter House, which have been lost since the 15th century. Indeed, their simplified shapes resemble designs for frescoes or stained-glass windows. They have also been connected to inscriptions on three 13th century ciboria – covered cups holding the Eucharist – and to the tympanum on the porch of the parish church in Quenington, Gloucestershire.
However, little is known about the creation of the manuscript and its ownership history begins with an inscription on fol. 8v: “The gift of Sr John Sherard of Lobthorp in Lincolnshire. Stuart Bickerstaffe 1690”. Bickerstaffe appears to have had it bound with the other half of MS 177 because Humfrey Wanley notes in his diary that he saw the codex on the 11th of August 1725 when he was visiting Bickerstaffe in Chelsea. An inscription in the Ex Libris reads “The Gift of George Henry Pitt Esqr to Eton College May 28th 1817”, but there is no indication as to how the codex came into Pitt’s possession.

Chrisitian Typology

The medieval Church used allegory as a method for explaining discontinuities between the Old and New Testaments. Although they maintained that both texts were equally inspired by God but chose not to interpret parts of the Old Testament literally and instead to view them as allegorical foreshadowing events in the New Testament, particularly events from the life of Christ. Events, persons, or statements in the Old Testament are thus called types, which portend events or aspects of Christ or his revelation described in the New Testament, called antitypes.
This view was influenced by Hellenistic Jewish scholars and Christianized in the 3rd century by Origen of Alexandria and popularized in the 4th century by Hilary of Poitiers and Ambrose. Saint Augustine was another strong proponent of the system and Isidore of Seville and Rabanus Maurus created influential summaries and compilations of standardized interpretations and their meanings. Some Christians, most notably the Eastern Orthodox Church, still use typology regularly as a exegetical tool.
While the first two pages of the Eton Roundels illustrate Creation and other events from the beginning of Genesis, the remaining pages follow this typological approach. Each has five roundels: the antitype from the New Testament is in the middle, three types from the Old Testament surround it, while the fourth, added for symmetry in the rectangular design, typically displays one or more prophets as do the two half-roundels that flank the central image. A crowned female figure enthroned between the bottom two roundels represents a relevant virtue.


Alternative Titles
Figurae bibliorum
Size / Format
16 pages / 27.5 × 18.8 cm
Second half of the 13th century
Gothic Textura Semiquadrata
12 miniatures

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Eton Roundels: Eton College MS 177 ("Figurae bibliorum") – a colour facsimile

Scolar Press – London, 1990

Publisher: Scolar Press – London, 1990
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Facsimile Copy Available!
Price Category: €
(under 1,000€)
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