What Is the Bayeux Tapestry?
The Bayeux Tapestry, an ancestor of the strip cartoon, is embroidery showing, on a continuous linen band over 230 feet long, 20 inches tall, which depicts the details of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1070s. Its manufacture was probably ordered by William’s half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who is pictured on it.
The tapestry’s existence is first recorded in 1476. It was produced once a year as a decoration in Bayeux Cathedral. The first reproduction dates from 1729. The tapestry is now exhibited at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France.
There is general agreement that the tapestry, in worsted wool of eight colors, was made soon after the Conquest. Its description of events tallies well with what is known of the Battle of Hastings. The tapestry is also noted for its decorative borders, which include figures from Aesop’s fables, and farming and hunting scenes.
According to Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry:
The Bayeux tapestry is one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque …. Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous … Its exceptional length, the harmony and freshness of its colors, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its guiding spirit combine to make it endlessly fascinating.
The designs on the Bayeux Tapestry are embroidered rather than woven, so that it is not technically a tapestry. Nevertheless, it has always been called a tapestry until recent years, when the more correct name “Bayeux Embroidery” has gained ground among art historians. The tapestry can be seen as the final and best known work of Anglo-Saxon art, and though made after the Conquest was both made in England and firmly in an Anglo-Saxon tradition, points now accepted by French art-historians.
Such tapestries adorned both churches and wealthy houses in England, though at 0.5 by 68.38 meters (1.6 by 224.3 ft, and apparently incomplete) the Bayeux Tapestry is exceptionally large. Only the figures and decoration are embroidered, on a background left plain, which shows the subject very clearly and was necessary to cover very large areas.