| A detail of the Bayeux Tapestry, with the Norman cavalry ready for battle.|
Courtesy, Web Gallery of Art
I've long been fascinated by historical needlework and am an avid practitioner: after all, there is no better way to understand and appreciate an artistic process than to physically do it. There is also something very satisfying in having physical proof of a winter's evenings spent stitching by the fire. As I work, my mind often wanders, and I imagine the long line of people who for thousands of years have sat near a light, needle and thread in hand. Here we have a rare cultural relic, a process which has changed very little-- the linen, needles, silks and wools may be machine made now, but the techniques are the same. The stitches I learned from a beloved teacher are the descendants of those recorded as early as the 5th century BC in China, where they were developed as mending and reinforcing stitches for garments.
|A detail of a needlework project I did a few cold winters ago for my husband. |
Many of the stitches are identical to those in the Bayeux Tapestry.
Image copyright, Parvum Opus.
|Scene 43a, depicting the Normans' battle preparations: HIC FECERUN[T] PRANDIUM.|
"Here they made breakfast." Courtesy Wikipedia.
You're surely familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, but I hope you'll enjoy revisiting it as its one of those objects that never fails to amaze. A brief bit of history, from Wikipedia: The Bayeux tapestry "is an embroidered cloth- not an actual tapestry- nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long, 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."
|Scene 54, HIC ODO EP[ISCOPU]S BACULU[M] TENENS CONFORTAT PUEROS:|
"Here, Bishop Odo, holding a club, gives strength to the boys."
"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."
|William, Duke of Normandy|
Image courtesy BBC
|In this scene, Harold is struck in the eye by an arrow and dies. |
HIC HAROLD REX INTERFECTUS EST, "Here King Harold is slain."
The tapestry includes about fifty scenes embroidered on linen with Latin tituli or captions.
No one knows for sure who commissioned or fabricated it, but it's possible that William's half-brother, Bishop Odo had it made in England sometime in the 1070s. After a long and complicated journey, the tapestry has found a permanent home in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France.
|A view of a section of the Bayeux Tapestry inside the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux.|
From the UNESCO homepage, courtesy of the French State.
One of my favorite scenes in the tapestry depicts Halley's comet, which appeared in March of 1066. The comet was considered to be a bad omen for Harold, who would die in the battle of Hastings later that year. In 1066, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Eilmer of Malmesbury wrote of Halley's comet: " You've come, have you? You've come, you source of tears to many mothers, you evil. I hate you! It is long since I saw you; but as I see you now you are much more terrible, for I see you brandishing the downfall of my country. I hate you!"
|Scene 32 from the tapestry, with the tituli: "ISTI MIRANT[UR] STELLA[M]", |
or "the people marvel at the star". The comet is visible at the top right.
Image courtesy Wikipedia.
If you have the opportunity, I heartily recommend a visit to the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. It's nearly impossible to get a feel for the scale and texture of the actual piece which is truly magnificent in person. Until then, I do hope you'll enjoy the following video, which cleverly animates a section of the tapestry, and perhaps, even pick up a needle and thread and continue the conversation with the talented embroiderers who created this beautiful piece almost a thousand years ago.