Descriptio Rote secunde iuxta vitulum. Et secunda pars secunde dispositionis, from Henricus de Carreto's 'De Rotis Ezechielis' by Unknown artist, Northern Italy

Unknown artist, Northern Italy

Descriptio Rote secunde iuxta vitulum. Et secunda pars secunde dispositionis, from Henricus de Carreto's 'De Rotis Ezechielis', c.1313–15, Manuscript illumination, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, MS Lat. 12018, fol. 124r, Bibliothèque nationale de France: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10025464s

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The Entirety of Scripture

Commentary by

The wheels of Ezekiel do not only represent one man’s visionary experience; they signify the entirety of Scripture (perfecta sacre scripture). So wrote Henricus de Carreto in the dedication of his manuscript, the De Rotis Ezechielis (‘On the Wheels of Ezekiel’), of which only two copies exist. This image is found in the original copy of the manuscript: a lengthy theological text illustrated with twenty-five diagrams.These show the wheels in various stages of movement and different degrees of scale, to guide the reader through their multiple layers of symbolism.

This particular image is one of the first in the series and depicts Ezekiel’s visionary experience in astounding detail, bringing the strangeness of the descriptions to life before the readers’ eyes. Taking the description of the wheels as its model, each wheel has the four faces of the four creatures (Ezekiel 10:14) and all have eyes (v.12). Framing the wheels are the cherubim, who have ‘the form of a human hand under their wings’ (v.8).

By following the biblical description exactly, the image maker’s intention was evidently to capture the vision as precisely as possible, with the consequence that both the schematic structures as well as the figures upon them were laden with scriptural meaning.

Described as like wheels within wheels (cf. 10:10), the potential of the wheels to be represented as concentric circles made them a fitting foundation upon which to represent the complex-yet-simple wholeness of the scriptural canon. Through them, Henricus attempted to picture their detailed description whilst explicating their theological and cosmological significance, discussed at length in the patristic texts that were in circulation during the Middle Ages (Dow 1957: 273–79).

Yet the schematism of a diagram, however geometrically constructed, cannot tame the unsettling strangeness of this theophany, whose energy also radiates from the page. As Origen exclaimed: ‘what could be more glorious and exalted than these things?’ (Commentary on The Gospel of John 6.23).

 

References

Dow, Helen. 1957. ‘The Rose-Window’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 20.3: 248–97