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Roundels From Around the World: Symbols of the Garden of Eden?
This paper explores the worldwide use of roundel imagery in textiles, despite the fact that a circle is difficult to achieve in many techniques. Seeking an understanding of the dispersal and longevity of the roundel, it begins with the ancient Egyptian Shen ring, represented in hieroglyphs as a stylised loop of rope and signifying eternal protection. Such imagery can later be seen in 3rd and 4th century Egyptian Coptic weavings and, at about the same time, appear in Syrian silks.
Tracing the dispersal of such roundels follows the trail of traders and warriors moving east and west, as well as north, the latter with the Vikings, activly
trading with Bagdad from the late 8th century until the mid-11th century. During this period – if not before – painted European depictions of the Garden of Eden also appear in roundel form.
Adopted by widely divergent societies, the use of circular forms appears to provide a universally understood wish for the protective “embrace”, and becomes embedded in heraldry as well as localised regional styles. Its meaning appears to remain intact until the beginning of the 20th century, after which it still does appear, but with less convincing correlations to its original meaning.
Mary Schoeser, MA FRSA, has written over 25 books and 50 academic essays, including Textiles: A concise history (T&H: 2003), Silk (Yale University Press: 2007), and Textiles: The art of mankind (Thames & Hudson: 2012). For most of the 1980s the archivist for Warner & Sons and thereafter consultant archivist to numerous firms, she has a sound understanding of textile and wallpaper production itself. This has facilitated restoration work in many historic properties and also informed 36 curatorial projects. Formerly holding research positions at Central Saint Martins (2000-2011), she is currently an Honorary V&A Museum Senior Research Fellow, President of the Textile Society (UK) and Patron of the School of Textiles, Coggeshall.