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  • The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History — Proceedings of the Cerisy Colloquium (1990)
  • Sylvia Huot
The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History — Proceedings of the Cerisy Colloquium (1990). Edited by Pierre Bouet, Brian Levy and François Neveux . Presses universitaires de Caen, 2004. 426 pp., 146 colour plates, 66 b&w plates, 6 diagrams. Hb €39.50.

This generously illustrated, yet very affordable, volume brings together a wide range of expertise for an assessment of one of the best known cultural artefacts of the Middle Ages: the oddly named Bayeux Tapestry (as the editors remind us, it is in fact an embroidery, and not a tapestry at all). Twenty-three papers are arranged in five sections: 'Historiography of the Bayeux Tapestry'; 'The Artefact as Textile'; 'Medieval Sources and Historical Narrative'; 'The Bayeux Tapestry as Documentary Evidence'; and 'The Work of Art'. In addition, a Bibliography lists 115 works devoted to the Tapestry, published during the period between 1985 and 1999 (thus, works that have appeared since the compilation of Shirley Ann Brown's comprehensive annotated bibliography, published in 1988). The opening section details the history of Bayeux Tapestry studies, identifying key points of contention: was it made in England or in Normandy? Was it commissioned by Bishop Odo or by Queen Matilda? How long after the Norman Conquest was it made and is it based on written sources, oral traditions, or indeed eye-witness accounts and memories? This opening section includes a very interesting account of the study of the Tapestry undertaken by German scholars during the Nazi occupation of France. In the second section, we find studies of the material artefact: its cloth, backing strip, fibres, embroidery stitches, and so on. Scientific analysis reveals the make-up of dyes used; carbon-14 dating allows for more accurate understanding of the construction and subsequent restorations of the object; removal of the backing strip enabled useful studies of the reverse side of the embroidery. Studies of the Tapestry as historical narrative focused on such issues as the prominent role played by the Tapestry's presumed patron, William's brother Odo of Bayeux, portrayed as a warrior-bishop closely involved with the important events of the Norman Conquest; the surprisingly positive role assigned to Harold, who actually appears in more scenes than William does; ways that the Tapestry might reflect the aspirations or setbacks of William's wife and daughters; and the relationship of the Tapestry to contemporary written sources, such as those of Orderic Vitalis, William of Poitiers, and Wace. The fourth section considers the Tapestry as a source of information for such matters as costumery, ship design, military equipment, battle techniques, and domestic architecture. The fifth section examines the Tapestry as a work of visual art, considering such points as representation of narrative action and the iconography of kingship, and comparing the embroidered scenes to those found in scultpure and manuscript illumination. In all this is a very useful volume that provides an excellent introduction to anyone wishing to embark on study of the Bayeux Tapestry, as well as containing much of interest to those already acquainted with it.

Sylvia Huot
Pembroke College, Cambridge


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