The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History ed. by Pierre Bouet, Brian Levy, François Neveux (review)
- Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- Volume 36, 2005
- pp. 189-190
- Additional Information
REVIEWS 189 The Bayeux Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History, ed. Pierre Bouet, Brian Levy, and François Neveux (Caen: Presses Universitaires de Caen 2004) In 1982–1983, an extensive examination and restoration of the remarkable Bayeux Tapestry was undertaken. This was necessary both for understanding how it was made in order to better preserve it, and also to perhaps gain new insight into its meaning and history. Due to a number of factors, however, the findings of this scientific mission were not publicized until 1999, when the annual Colloquium of the Cerisy-la-Salle International Cultural Center was dedicated to the Tapestry. It has taken another five years for the papers delivered at that Colloquium to be published in this volume. The Bayeux Tapestry is actually not a tapestry at all, but an embroidery. It was made in the late 1060s or early 1070s to commemorate the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. It was likely commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux, who was close to William the Conqueror and almost certainly had a significant role in certain aspects of the conquest. It is approximately half a meter high and seventy meters long, and it gives an extraordinarily detailed account of the circumstances that led up to and constituted the Norman Conquest . It is unique—no other such embroidered narrative masterpieces exist from this time. But its importance extends far beyond its medium; works of art in any medium with as much to offer scholars as the Bayeux Tapestry are extremely rare. It is for this reason that the Tapestry has been the subject of so much scholarship and debate, an aspect of its history that is well-represented by this volume. Essays in this volume treat the Tapestry first as physical object: the methodology and findings of the 1982–1983 analysis and restoration are thoroughly discussed here. Isabelle Bédat and Béatrice Girault-Kurtzeman, two of the textile restorers charged with handling the Tapestry, give an overview of their findings that includes microscopic photographs of the embroidery’s wool fibers, a breakdown of the types of stitches used, and a chemical analysis of the dyes, among many other things. Brigitte Oger’s report includes more microscopic photographs demonstrating insect and mite damage, as well as measurements of the thread torsion in various parts of the embroidery. The section as a whole is effective in conveying the findings of the scientific study, and will make a valuable addition to scholarship on the Tapestry and on medieval textiles in general. However, the sheer density of the material may make this section of the book somewhat daunting to the layperson. Fortunately, there is something here for everyone interested in the Tapestry and in Anglo-Norman culture. The Tapestry is examined from all angles (in some cases, quite literally—the 1982 study marked the first time the reverse side of the Tapestry had been seen, and the volume includes a number of excellent images of it). Several essays focus on a single image or motif. Elisabeth van Houts examines an image of William the Conqueror’s ship, shown in the tapestry bearing a carved image of a child blowing a trumpet. Her study of William’s ship inventory reveals that such a ship did indeed exist; it was called the Mora, and the image it bore was of a golden child. Her essay examines this enigmatic image with an eye to establishing a connection between the image of the child and the name of the ship. Most interesting is her assertion that both of REVIEWS 190 these were the choices of William’s wife, Matilda, as it was she who commissioned the ship. It is a fascinating article and an enlightening study of William’s family and its dynamics. In her essay “The Coronation of Harold in the Bayeux Tapestry,” Barbara English studies the coronation scene and compares it to earlier and contemporary coronation and enthronement scenes in other works of art. Other essays treat the Tapestry as history, fiction and/or propaganda. One of the most intriguing of these essays is Pierre Bouet’s “Is the Bayeux Tapestry Pro-English?” It is a deliberately provocative title, given the Tapestry’s...