The Norman Conquest Recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry (1077)
The Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidery roughly 70 meters long, was produced in England, possibly in Canterbury, commemorating events leading up to and after the Battle of Hastings.
"The tapestry has text in Latin describing what is happening in the scenes. This work of art includes 623 humans, 202 horses, 41 ships, 2000 Latin words and 8 different colors of yarn."
The tapestry was most likely first put on display in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, built by Bishop Odo in 1077. Then, no mention of it is found for the next 300 years. Then, it was mentioned in 1750 when it was referred to in a book by the name of Palaeographia Britannicus. Soon afterward, the people of Bayeux, who were fighting for the Republic, needed cloth to cover their wagons. As such, the tapestry was removed from the cathedral and used to cover an ammunition wagon. A lawyer saved the tapestry by replacing it with another cloth. In 1803 Napoleon seized it and transported it to Paris. Napoleon wanted to use the tapestry as inspiration for his planned attack on England. When this plan was cancelled, the tapestry was returned to Bayeux. The townspeople wound the tapestry up and stored it like a scroll. The tapestry spent World War II wound up in the Louvre. Now it is stored in a museum in a dark room with special lighting to avoid damaging it."
ISTI MIRANT STELLA: "These (people) are looking in wonder at the star."
Construction, design and technique
In common with other embroidered hangings of the early medieval period, this piece is conventionally referred to as a "tapestry", although it is not a true tapestry in which the design is woven into the cloth; it is in fact an embroidery.
The Bayeux tapestry is embroidered in wool yarn on a tabby-woven linen ground 68.38 metres long and 0.5 metres wide (224.3 × 1.6 ft) and using two methods of stitching: outline or stem stitch for lettering and the outlines of figures, and couching or laid work for filling in figures. Nine linen panels, between fourteen and three metres in length, were sewn together after each was embroidered and the joins were disguised with subsequent embroidery. At the first join the borders do not line up properly but the technique was improved so that the later joins are practically invisible. The design involved a broad central zone with narrow decorative borders top and bottom. By inspecting the woollen threads behind the linen it is apparent all these aspects were embroidered together at a session and the awkward placing of the tituli is not due to them being added later. Later generations have patched the hanging in numerous places and some of the embroidery (especially in the final scene) has been reworked. The tapestry may well have maintained much of its original appearance—it now compares closely with a careful drawing made in 1730.
The main yarn colours are terracotta or russet, blue-green, dull gold, olive green, and blue, with small amounts of dark blue or black and sage green. Later repairs are worked in light yellow, orange, and light greens. Laid yarns are couched in place with yarn of the same or contrasting colour.
The tapestry's central zone contains most of the action which sometimes overflows into the borders either for dramatic effect or because things would otherwise be very cramped (for example at Edward's death scene). Events take place in a long series of scenes which are generally separated by highly stylised trees. However, the trees are not placed consistently and the greatest scene shift, between Harold's audience with Edward after his return to England and Edward's burial scene, is not marked in any way at all.
The tituli are normally in the central zone but occasionally use the top border. The borders are otherwise mostly purely decorative and only sometimes does the decoration complement the action in the central zone. The decoration consists of birds, beasts, fish and scenes from fables, agriculture and hunting. There are frequent oblique bands separating the vignettes. There are nude figures, some of corpses from battle, others of a ribald nature A harrow, a newly invented implement, is depicted and this is the earliest known depiction. The picture of Halley's Comet, which appears in the upper border, is the first known picture of this comet.
The end of the tapestry has been missing from time immemorial and the final titulus "Et fuga verterunt Angli" is said to be "entirely spurious", added shortly before 1814 at a time of anti-English sentiment. Musset speculates the hanging was originally about 1.5 metres longer. At the last section still remaining the embroidery has been almost completely restored but this seems to have been done with at least some regard to the original stitching. The stylised tree is quite unlike any other tree in the tapestry. The start of the tapestry has also been restored but to a much lesser extent
In 1724 a linen backing cloth was sewn on comparatively crudely and, in around the year 1800, large ink numerals were written on the backing which broadly enumerate each scene and which are still commonly used for reference
Tapestry fragments have been found in Scandinavia dating from the ninth century and it is thought that Norman and Anglo-Saxon embroidery developed from this sort of work. Examples are to be found in the grave goods of the Oseberg ship and the Överhogdal tapestries.
A monastic text from Ely, the Liber Eliensis, mentions a woven narrative wall-hanging commemorating the deeds of Byrhtnoth, killed in 991. Wall-hangings were common by the tenth century with English and Norman texts particularly commending the skill of Anglo-Saxon seamstresses. Mural paintings imitating draperies still exist in France and Italy and there are twelfth century mentions of other wall-hangings in Normandy and France. A poem by Baldric of Dol might even be describing the Bayeux Tapestry itself. So, the Bayeux Tapestry was not unique at the time it was created—rather it is remarkable for being the sole surviving example of Middle Ages' narrative needlework.
Adelae Comitissae, poetic description of the Bayeux Tapestryhttp://www.bayeux-tapestry.org.uk/baudri-full.htm