Bayeux Tapestry

A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, rallying Duke William's troops during the Battle of Hastings in 1066

The Bayeux Tapestry (UK: -/, US: -/; French: Tapisserie de Bayeux [tapisʁi də bajø] or La telle du conquest; Latin: Tapete Baiocense) is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall,[1][2][3] which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. It is thought to date to the 11th century, within a few years after the battle. It tells the story from the point of view of the conquering Normans, but is now agreed to have been made in England.

According to Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry, in her 2005 book La Tapisserie de Bayeux:

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 colours, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its guiding spirit combine to make it endlessly fascinating.[4]

The cloth consists of some fifty scenes with Latin tituli, embroidered on linen with coloured woollen yarns. It is likely that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William's half-brother, and made in England—not Bayeux—in the 1070s. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral. The tapestry is now exhibited at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France (49°16′28″N 0°42′01″W / 49°16′28″N 0°42′01″W / 49.2744; -0.7003).

The designs on the Bayeux Tapestry are embroidered rather than woven, so that it is not technically a tapestry.[5] Nevertheless, it has always been referred to as a tapestry until recent years when the name "Bayeux Embroidery" has gained ground among certain art historians. It can be seen as a rare example of secular Romanesque art. Tapestries adorned both churches and wealthy houses in Medieval Western Europe, though at 0.5 by 68.38 metres (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 large areas.

On 18 January 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the Bayeux Tapestry would be loaned to Britain for public display. It is expected to be exhibited at the British Museum in London from 2022. It will be the first time that it has left France in 950 years.[6]

Origins

Bishop Odo of Bayeux
Bayeux Cathedral, home of the tapestry in the middle ages and until the beginning of the 19th century

The earliest known written reference to the tapestry is a 1476 inventory of Bayeux Cathedral,[7] but its origins have been the subject of much speculation and controversy.

French legend maintained the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife, and her ladies-in-waiting. Indeed, in France, it is occasionally known as "La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde" (Tapestry of Queen Matilda). However, scholarly analysis[8] in the 20th century concluded it was probably commissioned by William's half-brother, Bishop Odo, who, after the Conquest, became Earl of Kent and, when William was absent in Normandy, regent of England.

The reasons for the Odo commission theory include: 1) three of the bishop's followers mentioned in the Domesday Book appear on the tapestry; 2) it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo; and 3) it may have been commissioned at the same time as the cathedral's construction in the 1070s, possibly completed by 1077 in time for display on the cathedral's dedication.

Assuming Odo commissioned the tapestry, it was probably designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon artists (Odo's main power base being by then in Kent); the Latin text contains hints of Anglo-Saxon; other embroideries originate from England at this time; and the vegetable dyes can be found in cloth traditionally woven there.[9][10][11] Howard B. Clarke has proposed that the designer of the tapestry was Scolland, the abbot of St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, because of his previous position as head of the scriptorium at Mont Saint-Michel (famed for its illumination), his travels to Trajan's Column, and his connections to Wadard and Vital, two individuals identified in the tapestry.[12][13] The actual physical work of stitching was most likely undertaken by female needleworkers. Anglo-Saxon needlework of the more detailed type known as Opus Anglicanum was famous across Europe. It was perhaps commissioned for display in the hall of his palace and then bequeathed to the cathedral he built, following the pattern of the documented but lost hanging of Byrhtnoth.[14]

Alternative theories exist. Carola Hicks has suggested it could possibly have been commissioned by Edith of Wessex.[15] Wolfgang Grape has challenged the consensus that the embroidery is Anglo-Saxon, distinguishing between Anglo-Saxon and other Northern European techniques;[16] Medieval material authority Elizabeth Coatsworth[17] contradicted this: "The attempt to distinguish Anglo-Saxon from other Northern European embroideries before 1100 on the grounds of technique cannot be upheld on the basis of present knowledge."[18] George Beech suggests the tapestry was executed at the Abbey of St. Florent in the Loire Valley, and says the detailed depiction of the Breton campaign argues for additional sources in France.[19] Andrew Bridgeford has suggested that the tapestry was actually of English design and encoded with secret messages meant to undermine Norman rule.[20]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Tapyt van Bayeux
አማርኛ: የባዬ ስጋጃ
Ænglisc: Baius tæpped
العربية: نسيج بايو
беларуская: Дыван з Баё
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Дыван з Баё
български: Гоблен от Байо
español: Tapiz de Bayeux
Bahasa Indonesia: Dewangga Bayeux
íslenska: Bayeux-refillinn
Basa Jawa: Dèwangga Bayeux
Lëtzebuergesch: Tapisserie vu Bayeux
lietuvių: Bajė gobelenas
lumbaart: Aras de Bayeux
Bahasa Melayu: Dewangga Bayeux
Nederlands: Tapijt van Bayeux
norsk nynorsk: Bayeuxteppet
Simple English: Bayeux Tapestry
slovenščina: Tapiserija iz Bayeuxa
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Tapiserija iz Bayeuxa
svenska: Bayeuxtapeten
українська: Гобелен з Байо
West-Vlams: Tapyt van Bayeux
中文: 贝叶挂毯