It was a bit of a cheat on my side, I have to admit. I acquired this book in the museum store in Bayeux, after seeing the said tapestry, during my vacation with my mum in northern France. So not really a typical reading or reviewing matter, yet I gladly read it for the subject is fascinating.
The Bayeux Tapestry is not even a tapestry. It is a 70m long embroidered piece of linen cloth originating from the 11th century. It tells the story of the events culminating in the Norman conquest of England and the battle of Hastings. It is the only, r almost only (we never know what else will be uncovered) example of narrative embroidery from that time, even though it seems it was a relatively typical decoration back then. However, the nature of the material and the considerable size make such artwork extremely fragile.
The tapestry (let’s stick with bad habits) was meant to tell the story to the people who could not read it. It is often associated with our temporary comic strips, but it is a bit of an oversimplification.
For not only it tells us the events that took place, but it is also a political statement reinforcing Wilhelm’s claim on the throne. At the same time, it does not belittle or disrespect his adversaries, possibly for political reasons once more, in order to try to bring both sides together and restore peace. It also contains a wealth of information about the life and society during Norman times. We can see how the fortifications and ships were built, how troops are armed and organized. We even get to see a feast (with rotisserie chickens included, not so much has changed).
It is easy to think that the imagery is simplistic when you look at the isolated sections. But once you consider the whole 70m, the fact that the middle section tells the story and the upper and bottom one is heavily decorated with rich bestiary and mysterious side scenes, it is, in fact, an impressive work of art. One driven by a well-developed idea and delivering the intended message in a masterful way.
The fact that it is almost 1000 years old only adds to the awe. For those of you living in the UK, it may be interesting to know that the tapestry will be loaned and displayed at the British Museum in 2020. The first time for it to leave France and come back to the land of its origin since it left it nearly 1000 years ago.
I counted the guide as one of my 20 books of summer, but what really counts here is the tapestry itself.
You can see a semi-animated walk-through all of it here: