Roundel Puzzle

Name that roundel!

Fig. 9. Name that roundel!

Detail of fallen man

Fig. 10. Detail of fallen man.

This month’s puzzle comes from the parish church of St Peter at Nowton in Suffolk, home to one of the largest collections of imported roundels in England. It has a diameter of 23cm and is painted in black with both light- and dark-yellow stain. It has been dated to c.1525 [Fig. 9].

Several scenes are depicted. In the foreground the decapitated body of a young woman sprawls across a rocky landscape. Her severed head with long blonde hair can be seen at the bottom of the roundel, carefully arranged within the curve of her body. Blood spurts from her neck. To her right a fallen man is gripped by a winged demon with terrified eyes. The hem of the man’s robe is inscribed with unintelligible letters. Fire rains down on them from the sky. A sword lies between the man and the body of the young woman.

The final scene (upper left) shows a burial. The young woman’s head has been reunited with her body and she wears grave clothes.

What subject does the scene show? Roundels and other single panels of this period typically depict a range of subjects, including stories from the Old and New Testaments, the lives of saints, and tales from ancient history and classical literature, such as Homer’s Odyssey. Moral themes can also appear.

The solution can be found at the foot of this month’s Books section.

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