Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Bayeux Tapestry and Opus Anglicanum ...




Having just written a couple of posts about St Nicolas Church, celebrating its 800th year, arising from two talks at the Church on William the Conqueror and Pevensey … it seems, per the comments, a brief note on the Bayeux Tapestry would add to the story.

A full size copy of the Bayeux Tapestry
was given to Reading Museum in 1895:
it is well travelled, but now has its own
gallery; see the Museum site



The Bayeux Tapestry depicting the events leading up to and telling the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 AD … is an extraordinary piece of art showing life at that time.







iphone photo out of window - across Eastbourne,
slightly inland is Pevensey and in the far distance
across the bay is Hastings

It is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 feet) long and 50 centimetres (20 inches) high … containing 50 scenes with Latin tituli (text), embroidered on linen with coloured woollen yarns. 





Hastings, not taken by me, looking back across the bay to
the South Downs and Eastbourne/Pevensey in the distance




It is thus not technically a tapestry … but has always been called one.  It is exceptionally large and appears to be not quite finished … thankfully not much is missing …


Embroidered bookbinding - English Work
of the 12th C




Anglo-Saxon needlework of the more detailed type known as Opus Anglicanum (English Work) was famous across Europe from the late 12th to mid 14th centuries.









It is believed that William Odo, William’s half-brother, probably commissioned the tapestry … the reasoning for this is that: 

three of Bishop Odo’s followers mentioned in the Domesday Book appear on the tapestry; 

it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo; and 

it may have been ordered when the Cathedral was constructed during the 1070s in time for display at the Cathedral’s Dedication.



Detail of stem stitching and laid work



The tapestry has two types of stitching: 





outline or stem-stitch for lettering and the outlines of figures, and

couching or laid-work for filling in the figures.



Detail of  Tituli and stem-stitch, as
too laid work


There are nine linen panels, which once sewn together (after being embroidered) had the joins disguised with subsequent embroidery.

The main yarn colours are terracotta or russet, blue-green, dull gold, olive green, and blue, with small amounts of dark blue or black and sage green.





The vegetable dyes are those found in traditionally woven cloth in England, and particularly the south, at that time.







The earliest known reference to the tapestry is a 1476 AD inventory of Bayeux Cathedral … now having been carefully preserved - it is on permanent display in the Bayeux Museum.


Odo, Bishop of Bayeux

Tituli are included in many scenes to point out names of people or places or to explain briefly the event being depicted.  The text is in Medieval Latin but at times the style of words and spelling show an English influence.





A stylised tree


Stylised trees usually separate the scenes … this one here shows some messengers with Guy, and then below the border various medieval agricultural practices.  (Guy was the Count of Ponthieu who supported Duke William.)





Normandy and Brittany - the red box outlines
the whereabouts of Bayeux, while Caen is
the main town to the south east


The Bayeux Museum is near the Normandy coast and a few miles from Caen – the preferred building material by the Dukes of Normandy … the stone had been used in England in previous centuries, for example in Canterbury Cathedral.






The Tapestry is so widely recognised and is so distinctive in its artistic style, it has been frequently been used or reimagined in a variety of different popular culture contexts: being cited by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics as an example of early narrative art, and Bryan Talbot, a British comic book artist, has called it “the first known British comic strip”.

Pevensey Castle - as it is today - it is possible
to walk from the west to the east at the top of the picture,
within the walls of the castle,
where we will find St Nicolas Church


It has also inspired many replicas, or creations of a similar ilk to celebrate anniversary events …






An illustration of St Nicolas church in the 19thC


So the Kings and Dukes may not have been able to write, yet their achievements or defeats can be recorded through embroidery … which is why we know so much about the events surrounding the Battle of Hastings, but why some things will be known, but never fully explained.




The Butler-Bowden Cope - 1330 - 1350 AD
it is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum


The Opus Anglicanum (English Work) is worth a note … it was usually embroidered on linen, or later, velvet, in split stitch and couching with silver and gold or silver-gilt thread. 




Gold-wound threads, pearls and jewels are all mentioned in inventory descriptions.  Examples can be found in the Cloisters Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in the Treasure of Sens Cathedral, Burgundy …


An early 1920s photo of the lane to the Church


The links to the two talks I mentioned can be found here …







That Law of Unintended Consequence reared its wonderful head again … I had written this post ready to schedule – when the English Historical Fiction Authors put up a post by Mark Patton – “Opus Anglicanum: Embroidery inMedieval England” … giving us a much better idea of Embroidery in Medieval England …


… and reminding us that there is an exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London open until mid-February 2017. 

Elizabeth Chadwick of The History Girls has written about a research project she made to the V&A to see the above exhibition ... and some of the glass galleries ... please take a look ... 


Well those are both great additions to this post, and tie in many of the loose threads to give us comprehensive coverage …  of the Bayeux Tapestry together with the English embroiderers of Medieval days …



Novel Writing Month - congratulations to all completing NaNo in 2016 - may your stories be successful ...


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

46 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

The Bayeux Tapestry really is an incredible piece of work. I can't imagine how many hours went into it. A lovely way to preserve a story...
How I would love to see the exhibition at the V and A.

Patsy said...

I've seen the tapestry and it really is impressive as well as interesting and beautiful.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's a really long tapestry. Glad they were able to preserve it.

Mike Goad said...

The "tapestry" and the Domesday Book are both important works. I can't remember when I first heard of them, possibly college, but it was a relatively long time ago. Thanks for the explanation and sharing.

Out on the prairie said...

A unique form of art, I have always enjoyed it. This piece sounds amazing, I believe I have seen parts in a book.

Deniz Bevan said...

So fascinating to learn a little bit more about this. It actually makes me feel relaxed. If you'd posted about a detailed historical knitting piece, I would have felt compelled to research it, to study the stitches, to learn from it... But because I know nothing about embroidery, I can read about different types of stitches, and all the hard work and detailing, in your post, and feel all relaxed, knowing it's something I don't have to pursue any deeper!

Crystal Collier said...

So fascinating. Can you imagine the time and effort put into that thing? Whew! Just the thought makes my back and fingers ache. Talk about a project!

Joanne said...

thanks for stitching up the loose ends - excellent post
I would love to visit the V & A Museum, but doubt I shall get over the pond any time soon

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC – I’ve never seen it and so must make an effort to get across to Bayeux at some stage. I too would love to get up to London for the V&A exhibition … but sadly think I won’t make it.

@ Patsy – lucky you … and I’m sure I’d find it impressive, as well as really informative, let alone beautiful …

@ Alex – yes I’m so pleased it’s still around after all these years and wasn’t destroyed …

@ Mike – the various Domesday books are incredibly valuable being so full of knowledge, while the tapestry illustrates life back then. I suspect they were my first history lesson – aged 10 or so … glad you enjoyed the post …

@ Steve – definitely unique … while both the tapestry and the English embroidery must be used as reference material in various books.

@ Deniz – oh so that was a good thing I didn’t go into any more detail! I could have gone into more detail … but decided the basics are enough … so I’m glad it’s given you a relaxing few minutes reading this up …

@ Crystal – the think about 10 years to make … and yes whew! I agree and my eyes too … I suppose it gave the women of England work … and jobs no doubt were scarce – but long hours and no choice …

@ Joanne - delighted the loose ends were tied for you ... I hope you can come over this way and visit the V&A sometime ... it's a fantastic museum ...

Cheers everyone – I’m happy you enjoyed the post … Hilary

Liz A. said...

I remember hearing about the tapestry back in school. Fascinating stuff. I had no idea the embroidery was so elaborate. I didn't appreciate such things when I was a teen.

Janie Junebug said...

The tapestry is so beautiful. I long to see it in person. I'm so fascinated by English that I think I might have been switched at birth with an English baby.

Love,
Janie

A Cuban In London said...

Beautiful tapestry and lovely post. So informative. Sometimes I wonder that it is just pure luck that we have these objects around to tell us what happened in all those centuries gone by. A fire, a move, a careless builder, anything can destroy them. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

beste barki said...

I enjoy knowing that St.Nicholas was born in Asia Minor (then part of the Roman Empire) during the third century to a Greek family in the city of Patara. He lived in Myre-modern day Demre in the south of Turkey.

He has traveled long and far.

DMS said...

What a fascinating post. I Definitely learned a lot. What a remarkable piece of art and the history is so interesting. It is amazing to think of the size of it and how long it has lasted. Thanks for sharing this history with us. :)
~Jess

Jo said...

Interesting, I had read or been told that it was Duke William's wife who worked on the tapestry, presumably with her ladies.

I spent a lot of time in the Caen region if only I had known, mind you in those years I was probably more interested in boys LOL.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Liz – I knew very little about the tapestry … and this post gave me the opportunity to get some basic information about it. I now really want to see it … might end up at Reading to see the English copy.

@ Janie – it would be lovely to see it in person and a few days in France would do me the power of good … well it’s excellent that you are so fascinated and interested in all things English .. it’s good for us.

@ ACIL – think of the things that have been destroyed, so I guess we are just exceedingly lucky that we have these works of art to learn how our forebears lived, and recorded history for us.

Thankfully we’re still finding things … like the map found recently in a bundle of rags up a chimney in Aberdeen:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3979532/Bundle-rags-stuffed-chimney-stop-draughts-revealed-extremely-rare-priceless-17th-century-map.html

@ Beste – so glad you gave us a little more information on St Nicolas … he certainly travelled from afar … and I didn’t go into his background, as I had a lot of information to write up. This is in my August post …

@ Jess – The story of the Tapestry is extraordinary … and to have survived for so long, now restored so we can see its glory … just glad you’ve enjoyed it.

@ Jo – no worries … ideas and knowledge change over time. Yes – boys did start to feature once we reached a certain age …

Cheers to you all –thanks for visiting and your comments - Hilary

Anabel Marsh said...

We visited the Bayeux Tapestry on a French camping holiday c1982. I'd love to see it again, but I would expect a better class of accommodation this time!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

The work on that tapestry is beautiful. Viewing all the details would take hours.

Elsie Amata said...

Stunning and amazing! My mom would have loved to have seen this. Before Alzheimer's stole her from us, she could do tapestry work like nobody's business. This reminded me of her. Thank you for sparking that memory of her for me. :)

Annalisa Crawford said...

I remember learning about the tapestry in History, though I don't think I appreciated the scale of it back then. It's an amazing record of life at the time, and even more amazing that it's still in existence!

Rhodesia said...

At least I am aware of the tapestry but we have yet to see it! As ever though I have learnt a lot from your post. Have a great weekend, it is just around the corner. Diane

Lynn said...

The tapestry is fantastic! I would love to see that in person.

Olivia Rose said...

Oh, I wish I could see these in person. Looks so lovely.

Nick Wilford said...

It is pretty amazing that it has been preserved for so long. I was lucky enough to get to see the tapestry on holiday in France when I was a kid. Even more fascinating in real life!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Anabel - oh yes your next visit had better be in a lovely French B&B or local hotel ... but bet you're glad you visited way back when?!

@ Diane - wouldn't it take a long time trying to understand the reading of the tapestry ... I'd love to see it.

@ Elsie - I'm so pleased this brought back memories of your mother and her love of tapestry: Alzheimer's is a terrible disease ... but I'm happy that you're remembering some happy times with your mother.

@ Annalisa - I certainly didn't appreciate work that went into the tapestry - my mind has been opened. Exactly an amazing record, that thankfully still exists ... so we can see back.

@ Diane - I hope you can get up France to see ... it'd be lovely to have a post from you on it and the area. If this post encourages you to visit - then that will be a good job done for us later!

@ Lynn - I might go and see the replica in Reading to start with .. it must be extraordinary to view.

@ Olivia - nice to meet you .. and one day perhaps you can get to visit us and these museums.

@ Nick - how lucky you were - we never went in that direction as kids, and I haven't been across. I bet it is fascinating when you see - I can quite understand people being mesmerised by it ...

Thanks so much for your visit - and now have good weekends ... cheers to you all - Hilary

Madeleine Sara said...

Lovely post. I've seen the tapestry when I was a school girl.

I was surprised when I watched the recent TV programme that it was made by the English and is in fact an embroidery. Fascinating.

Jeffrey Scott said...

This is some awesome information. I love the double stitching technique. If at all possible, it makes the embroidery really 'pop'. I like how it describes it as an early form of cartooning. Or at least, cartooning can be said to have it's origins here. So true, artistic expression has really evolved over the centuries, hasn't it?

Shannon Lawrence said...

I've always found the Bayeux Tapestry interesting. The amount of work put into it, history passed down in such a way.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Madeleine - I've never seen it ... must make a plan. I didn't see that tv programme - but again sometime I expect it will come on and I'll get a chance to check it out. The Bayeux's background is amazing especially when it's still here and restored as far as possible to its former glory.

@ Jeffrey - I was glad I wrote up the post - as I learnt a lot ... and I'd now love to see it to see the 'popping' of the stitchwork you describe. Again the cartooning aspect is so true - and something I hadn't thought about ... we learn through the ages and hasn't artistic expression evolved, yet has its base back in time ...

@ Shannon - certainly history for us all to see and understand better when 'reading' the tapestry ...

Cheers to the three of you - thanks for your visit - Hilary

Vallypee said...

What an amazing piece of work it is indeed, Hilary! I never realised it wasn't technically a tapestry, but what an amazing history it has. I'd love to go an see it now.

Keith's Ramblings said...


I'm so pleased you reminded up that it's an embroidery, not a tapestry - it's something that's always bugged me! Although I've seen it a couple of times, I learned quite a few things I didn't know from your informative piece. Thank you!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love the intricacy and the way it tells a story. I can't imagine how much work and thought must have gone into its creation! Thanks for sharing for us here. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Val - that's great ... that the post has inspired you to make a plan to see it sometime ... it's only down the coast!

@ Keith - I hadn't realised that it is an embroidery and not actually a tapestry as such. You're lucky you've seen it - I must get over to France and visit the museum and town ...

@ Elizabeth - it was an extraordinary undertaking wasn't it ... such detail embroidered into history. Yes - to think that laterally a thousand years ago ... is quite extraordinary ... so glad you appreciated the post ...

Cheers and thanks for your comments ... Hilary

mail4rosey said...

Ah I'm glad not much is missing either. It's pretty massive in size! I think it would be wonderful to see.

Suzanne Furness said...

Imagine how much work went into this beautiful piece of tapestry.It would be wonderful to see. A real piece of history, hopefully for generations to come.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I can't imagine the hours of work that took and what must have been great expense at the time. I'm impressed they had so many colors to work with also.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Rosey - it's amazing it's survived all this time with only the end missing apparently. It is massive isn't it ... and I agree a wonderful thing to see.

@ Suzanne - I can't think of the effort that must have been put into this ... and the actual overall managing of it ... As you say a real piece of history for generations to come ...

@ Susan - The colours were interesting to find out about ... and then the hours of work and expense gathering it all up ... it is an amazing piece of artwork.

Cheers Hilary

Robert Bennett said...

These pieces are truly amazing, particularly when you think stop and think about just what they were working with at that time and how amazing they still turned out.

Nilanjana Bose said...

Textiles tell us so much about history. My son went to see the Bayeux tapestry as a part of a school history trip, I haven't seen it yet :) hopefully some day. Off to check the VA post now - that's one of my fav museums of all time!
Best always,
Nila

Karen Lange said...

Eight hundred years - wow, what a treasure! And that tapestry, it's truly a work of art. I love that these things have stood the test of time and can offer us glimpses of the past. Glad you shared them with us, Hilary. Have a great week! :)

Tara Tyler R said...

I am always amazed at the intricate designs and detailed artworks great and small of the past - they made such beauty with so little technology! It just proves how lazy we have become, very few could produce anything remotely close with as little at their disposal today.

Thanks for keeping us grounded! Sorry I haven't been here in too long!

Christine Rains said...

Gorgeous tapestry. I often wonder if I should take up something like that to busy my fingers as I watch TV. Thanks for sharing! :)

Kelly Hashway/Ashelyn Drake said...

Quite an impressive piece of art!

cleemckenzie said...

The close ups of the stitches are amazing, Hilary. So beautiful. I'm imagining the fingers that painstakingly created these images and told the story that might well have been lost without their talent. Thanks for focusing on this piece. I really enjoyed finding out more about it.

Jacqui Murray said...

That is amazing. I own one tapestry and it's more of a picture than a map (like this one seems to be). Tapestries do something to me that paintings can't. Thanks for sharing this one.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Robert - I know ... doing anything 1,000, 500 years ago ... is challenging to think about with our 20th and 21st C minds ... but the things produced are quite extraordinary ...

@ Nila - I've never particularly thought about textiles and history .. but what you say is so right and I must now pay more attention and look more closely. How brilliant your son has visited the Tapestry ... I expect you'll get there soon. I'm sure you'll have enjoyed the V&A posts ... and it is a brilliant museum - one I need to spend more time visiting ...

@ Karen - it is extraordinary to think of 800 years ago ... but it has survived. It is a work of art ... and I'm sure tells us so much ...

@ Tara - the miniatures as well as this enormous and beautiful art work ... as you say without technology, or drafts, or .... We couldn't do it ... but could they type? No doubt they'd have been quicker learning than we are ... I took a year, but I'm sure others took much less time. No worries about the visiting - always good to see you ...

@ Christine - I must get to see it over in Bayeux. Ah that's a good idea ... so many knit, or crochet while watching tv ... I usually do something else ... often scan reading things ...

@ Kelly - good to see you and thank you ...

@ Lee - and yes our fingers ... mine wouldn't be much good ... but it'd be fascinating to find out how they created it ... singly, or in groups of two or three ... it's the vision of the creation in the first place ... I'm glad you enjoyed this brief visit.

@ Jacqui - the idea that someone had all those years ago to create this immense embroidered tapestry and actually give it a life .. that's lasted 800 years+ is quite extraordinary. Interesting your idea about the map ... somewhat similar to our mind maps I suppose ... but the vision that came to life here is something difficult for us to comprehend all those centuries later. Art v Tapestry ... interesting thought ...

Thanks everyone - so good to see you and to read you've enjoyed learning a little more re the Bayeux Tapestry and its creation .. cheers Hilary