19.2.08

Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the most important pictorial works surviving from the middle ages, and certainly the most important from the eleventh century. It is not really a tapestry, but embroidery of colored wool on an unbleached linen background. It comprises a series of connected panels two hundred and three feet in length, with each of the panels about eighteen inches high. Much of what we know about its origins is a matter of guesswork. It was almost certainly the work of English embroiderers, and was most probably produced in the famous embroidery works of Winchester. The best guess is that it was commissioned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, and William the Conqueror's half-brother, one of the leading figures in the invasion of England. It was perhaps completed on 1077 in time for the consecration of the new cathedral at Bayeux or finished in 1083.

The French republican government was notorious for destroying relics of the past so it is not surprising that during the French revolution, it was hauled out to cover a wagon-load of ammunition being sent to the northern front where the republican French were being attacked by Royalists. A young lawyer of Bayeux pulled the tapestry from the wagon and replaced it with an oil cloth much better suited for the purpose. He carried the tapestry home, and hid it in his attic, where it remained for the next thirty years. When it was brought out, it was turned over to the bishop of Bayeux, who placed it in the Bishop's palace. It has remained there ever since, except for a short time when the Nazis took it to Paris for scientific examination. The bishop's palace is now a museum in which the tapestry is on permanent display and viewed by thousands of visitors a year.

de Brantigny

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