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The Bayeux Tapestry and Its Contexts

The Bayeux Tapestry and Its Contexts: A Reassessment

Elizabeth Carson Pastan
Stephen D. White
with Kate Gilbert
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    The Bayeux Tapestry and Its Contexts
    Book Description:

    Aspects of the Bayeux Tapestry (in fact an embroidered hanging) have always remained mysterious, despite much scholarly investigation, not least its design and patron. Here, in the first full-length interdisciplinary approach to the subject, the authors (an art historian and a historian) consider these and other issues. Rejecting the prevalent view that it was commissioned by Odo, the bishop of Bayeux and half-brother of William the Conqueror, or by some other comparable patron, they bring new evidence to bear on the question of its relationship to the abbey of St Augustine's, Canterbury. From the study of art-historical, archeological, literary, historical and documentary materials, they conclude that the monks of St Augustine's designed the hanging for display in their abbey church to tell their own story of how England was invaded and conquered in 1066. Elizabeth Carson Pastan is a Professor of Art History at Emory University; Stephen D. White is Asa G. Candler Professor of Medieval History (emeritus), Emory University, and an Honorary Professor of Mediaeval History at the University of St Andrews.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-389-8
    Subjects: History, Art & Art History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxiii)
  6. [Maps]
    (pp. xxiv-xxvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Stephen D. White

    The subject of this book is the embroidered textile, 68.38 meters or a little over 224 feet in length, that has long been known as “The Bayeux Tapestry.”¹ It is room-encompassing in size, implying a large number of viewers and underscoring the work’s essential public nature (Figs 1–36).² The full extent of the hanging may also be appreciated through the statistics that have been compiled about it: the work comprises 627 human figures, 190 horses or mules, 35 dogs, 32 ships, 33 buildings, and 37 trees, all hand-stitched in colored woolen thread on a plain linen ground.³ The surface...

  8. Chapter 1 The Material Context of the Bayeux Embroidery: Manufacture, Display, and Literary References
    (pp. 9-32)
    Elizabeth Carson Pastan

    Textiles are depicted throughout the Bayeux Embroidery, beginning with the very first scene (W1; Plate I; Fig. 1) and its plush hangings covering the vaulted ceiling, seat cushion decorated in a lattice-work brocade, and the king’s garment trimmed with distinctive gold-threaded embroidery. The renderings of textiles, including curtains, bed coverings, clothing, sails, and shrouds, constitute some of the most beautiful passages on the hanging. In these representations, the Bayeux Embroidery thematizes its own materiality.² The artistry of the stitching also instills awareness that the Bayeux Embroidery is a handcrafted artifact and a physical survivor of the once-extensive medieval textile tradition.³...

  9. Chapter 2 Is the Bayeux Embroidery a Record of Events?
    (pp. 33-58)
    Stephen D. White

    The Bayeux Embroidery is an important subject of inquiry in the field of art history as a rare and unusually large surviving example of a medieval tradition of embroidered pictorial narratives.¹ Scholarship on the embroidery, however, has long been dominated by political historians using its pictorial narrative, along with textual narratives supposedly resembling it, as a record of historical events and even as a reliable source of evidence about how the Norman conquest of England came about.² By aligning selected scenes on it with decontextualized passages from the written sources they trust and ignoring many other scenes in the main...

  10. Chapter 3 Imagined Patronage
    (pp. 59-81)
    Elizabeth Carson Pastan

    Despite scholarly engagements drawing attention to its complexity as a narrative,³ the Bayeux Embroidery is still routinely framed as a triumphal monument attesting to its putative patron’s greatness.⁴ Scholars who seek to come up with alternative explanations for its meaning and purpose are challenged not just by the weight of tradition surrounding it, but also by the fact that it is quite literally a work of art that is without a context. There are few extant medieval textiles with which to compare it – and certainly none on this scale – and no incontrovertible references to the embroidery from the...

  11. Chapter 4 The Prosopography of the Bayeux Embroidery and the Community of St Augustine’s, Canterbury
    (pp. 82-104)
    Stephen D. White

    Since the early nineteenth century, writers on the Bayeux Embroidery have used the widely separated images of three men identified by inscription as Turold, Wadard, and Vital to facilitate the process of dating the hanging, characterizing its audience, identifying the place or places where it was made and intended for display, and, above all, determining who had it made and why. Although the argument was originally formulated and documented by historians, it was eventually taken up as well by art historians, who found various ways of further developing it. Turold is depicted in a scene where two messengers from William,...

  12. Chapter 5 Locating Harold’s Oath and Tracing His Itinerary
    (pp. 105-125)
    Stephen D. White

    The scene on the Bayeux Embroidery showing Harold, duke of the English, taking an oath to William, duke of the Normans after William and his followers arrive in Bayeux (W26; Plate X; Fig. 13) is the high point of the first part of the pictorial narrative, which depicts a journey that Harold made, according to the Norman Story but not the English one, from England to the Continent and back at an unspecified date usually identifed by modern historians as 1064 or 1065.¹ Although there has been much debate about what the textile’s pictorial narrative of this journey was intended...

  13. Chapter 6 Bishop Odo at the Banquet
    (pp. 126-153)
    Elizabeth Carson Pastan

    If there is one scene in the Bayeux Embroidery always mentioned in support of the twin hypotheses of the embroidery’s manufacture at St Augustine’s in Canterbury and Bishop Odo’s patronage of it, it is the scene of Odo officiating at a banquet held after the Normans had landed in England and before the battle (W48; Plate XV; Fig. 24). In 1927 – decades before Francis Wormald drew attention to the wide-ranging similarities between motifs in the embroidery and illuminated manuscripts from Canterbury – Laura Hibbard Loomis located what is widely believed to be the pictorial “source” of the scene of...

  14. Chapter 7 The Fables in the Borders
    (pp. 154-182)
    Stephen D. White

    Just as the central frieze of the Bayeux Embroidery depicts Harolddux Anglorumand his “milites” leaving a second-story banquet hall at Bosham, boarding ship, and sailing out to sea, the lower border shows the first in an uninterrupted series of Aesopian fables, the last of which appears just as the English reach land and are captured by a lord called Guy (W4-8; Figs 2–4).¹ Previous writers on the embroidery are generally agreed that the series includes eight fables, referred to here as the “canonical” eight to distinguish them from other fables also represented but rarely if ever noticed.²...

  15. Chapter 8 Representing Architecture
    (pp. 183-209)
    Elizabeth Carson Pastan

    By drawing attention to the scholarly preoccupation with “real” buildings at the expense of understanding medieval representational strategies on their own terms, the case of theNuremberg Chronicle’s cityscapes helpfully frames this study of the representations of architecture in the Bayeux Embroidery. Like the Bayeux Embroidery of the later eleventh century, this incunabulum of 1493 has been the subject of many claims about its utility as a document of contemporary architectural practices.³ On the one hand, there is the publisher Anton Koberger’s grandiose assertion that the 101 different sites it depicts will lead you to think that you are seeing...

  16. Chapter 9 Legal Ceremonies and the Question of Legitimacy
    (pp. 210-236)
    Stephen D. White

    When King William I gave land in England as “a perpetual inheritance” to the Norman abbey of La Trinité du Mont in 1069, he made the gift by means of a knife, which he jokingly gave to the abbot as if he were going to stab him in the palm, saying, “This is the way land should be given.”¹ This wasnotthe usual way to give land, of course. But the story presupposed that there was a customary legal ceremony for doing so, which William would ordinarily have performed by placing the knife – which symbolized his gift –...

  17. Chapter 10 The Fall of the English
    (pp. 237-259)
    Stephen D. White

    The Bayeux Embroidery assigns a prodigious amount of space to the Battle of Hastings, which was fought on 14 October 1066 between the armies of Duke William of Normandy and King Harold II of England. Almost a quarter of the textile vividly dramatizes the fighting, the killing, and the dying at Hastings (W57–73; Figs 29–36).¹ More than a quarter of it is entirely devoted to the preparations of the duke’s forces for the battle, starting at the point where he orders that ships be built for the invasion of England (W34–5; Fig. 18) and ending with his...

  18. Chapter 11 Quid faciat … Scollandus? The Abbey Church of St Augustine’s c. 1073–1100
    (pp. 260-287)

    Until recently, the case for connecting the Bayeux Embroidery to the abbey of St Augustine’s in Canterbury has consisted of three main arguments. First, scholars turned to English traditions reflected in it, including the use of the much-admired craft of embroidery, and Anglo-Saxon elements in its inscription. Second, scholars observed strong affinities between the Bayeux Embroidery and the splendid illuminated manuscripts produced by the abbey.² Finally, the ties between its putative patron Odo of Bayeux and St Augustine’s, rather than Christ Church, with which his relations throughout his lifetime were less than cordial, make it virtually certain that his representations...

  19. Conclusion
    (pp. 288-292)
    Elizabeth Carson Pastan and Stephen D. White

    Reviewing the early architectural history of St Augustine’s, Richard Gem concluded that because the early Anglo-Saxon churches “were regarded as relics of their saintly founders,” they were not rethought or substantially rebuilt but rather “acquired new elements that were grafted on to the old.”¹ In some ways the scholarly literature on the Bayeux Embroidery has garnered a similar relic-like status. The foundational hypothesis – that the work was commissioned by Odo of Bayeux to justify the Norman conquest of England and celebrate his own role in it – has remained largely untouched since the nineteenth century. To this widely accepted...

  20. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 293-330)
  21. Illustrations
    (pp. 331-400)
  22. Index
    (pp. 401-415)
  23. plates
    (pp. None)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 416-416)