The Bayeux Tapestry - Part 2

The Bayeux Tapestry - Part 2

- Categories : Museums and Heritage

Here is the second part of Bayeux embroidery explanations. For the first part click here.

For lack of other proof, it is generally accepted that the Bayeux embroidery
was commissioned by Odo, the half-brother of William the Conqueror and Bishop of Bayeux.
The idea being to expose the Tapestry during important religious celebrations.
Even if the subject appears profane at first, it is in fact religious because it relates the consequences
of perjury – war and death – after an oath taken on the sacred relics.
The story begins in 1063 or 1064, the first scene showing the King of England Edward “The Confessor”,
who appears to be giving instructions to Harold, Earl of Wessex.
According to some chronicles of the time, Edward had summoned Harold
to go and inform William, Duke of Normandy that he should succeed him on the English throne.

 

HAROLD HAS SAILED THE SEA, AND WITH HIS SAILS FILLED BY THE WIND,
HE HAS COME INTO THE LAND OF COUNT GUY

Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry : Harold embarking for Normandy

Harold embarking for Normandy in Sajou pattern chart

The passage represented here on the left is Harold embarking for Normandy,
falcon on the wrist and tunic raised to avoid getting wet.
Note the men accompanying him with dogs and oars and the amusing detail
of the legs giving an impression of the transparency of the water.
On the right, the other boat shows that crossing the Channel was in all probability not very restful:
the sail is blown outwards and one of the cords has come loose in the strong wind.
Because of this storm, the boats are forced to land on the estate of Count Guy of Ponthieu, 
who threw Harold in jail with all his crew. 

On the original Tapestry there is a rowboat between these two boats, which I have not added here.

WHERE (ARE) A CLERIC AND AELFGYVA

Aelfgyvan, William's daughter in Bayeux Tapestry

Aelfgyva, the only woman on the whole Tapestry!
I could not miss out on this scene, even though it is one of the most enigmatic.
Some think it could be William’s daughter, betrothed to Harold.
The cleric in question inflicts a slap on her cheek lest she should forget the importance of her engagement,
in the same manner that knights were dubbed.
It is possible that the tower on the right evokes the interior of the Rouen Château.

 

HERE DUKE WILLIAM AND HIS ARMY HAVE COME TO MONT [SAINT] MICHEL
AND THEY CROSSED THE RIVER COUESNON AND THEY HAVE COME TO DOL.
DUKE HAROLD PULLED THEM FROM QUICKSAND

Duke William and his army have come to Mont Saint Michel in Bayeux Tapestry

Harold is finally freed from the jails of Guy de Ponthieu by the Duke William. The two head for Rouen.
Shortly after they organise a campaign in Britanny to defend Rivallon,
Lord of Dol, against Conan, Duke of Britanny.
The Norman army passes through the Mont-Saint-Michel to get to Dol.
The Mont-Saint-Michel makes up both the border and the principal decor.
This touching representation made me want to give it a bit more importance.

Duke William and his army at Mont Saint Michel in Sajou Bayeux embroidery

Passing through the Mont-Saint-Michel to get to Dol, the Norman army crosses the Couesnon.
Men and horses sink in the quicksand: a mount falls and, on the right, two soldiers are saved by Harold.
Many adventures ensue, which I encourage you to discover by going to Bayeux
or in any of the books mentioned underneath.
It should be pointed out though, that on returning to England to find the King Edward dead,
Harold is crowned king even though he has taken an oath of fidelity to William.

 

HERE BISHOP ODO, HOLDING A MACE, URGES ON THE YOUNG MEN.
HERE IS DUKE WILLIAM

The Battle of Hastings in Bayeux Taspestry

The battle of Hasting interpreted in cross stitch in Sajou Bayeux pattern chart

For the last scene of our project, I have chosen one of the determining passages in the Battle of Hastings,
with the outcome of William being crowned King of England.
On the left, Odo, who as a bishop is not armed, encourages the the soldiers.
On the right, William raises his helmet to show his face to the soldiers.
Having previously fallen from his horse, a rumour had spread
that he had been killed and his army started to retreat.
He catches up with the soldiers and proves he is alive.
As everyone knows, Harold and two of his brothers were killed during this famous battle.

THE BORDERS

The borders in Bayeux Tapestry

On both the bottom and top of the Tapestry are found borders, sometimes interrupted by the central scenes.
Domestic and fantastic animals, sketches and various symbols,
sometimes these borders give an impression of being in coherence with the main scene,
sometimes they represent a little tale or a fable which has nothing to do with it.
I constructed the frame of the embroidery by exploring these magnificent illustrations.

Domestic animals or fantastic animals in Bayeux Tapestry

Numerous bird, more or less easy to recognise, are featured in the Tapestry borders.
Here for example, we can see a crow, an eagle, a swan…
 
Real and imaginary animals, delightful to look at, an infinite bestiary surrounds the Tapestry.

The figures exhibiting their privacy are one of the mysteries of the Bayeux Tapestry

The figures, both male and female, exhibiting their privacy are one of the mysteries of the Tapestry. We do not know if they have a context with the main scenes where they can be found… However it should not be forgotten that many nudes, even explicit couplings, are featured in numerous Roman churches. It was a less prudish time when priests were married, bishops lived in cohabitation and popes had children…

An other part of Bayeux Tapestry borders, the archers

The archers, all different, are represented in great quantity,
notably on the long scenes dedicated to the Battle of Hastings.
They create a frieze which, even though the proportions have not been respected,
give a striking impression of perspective.
The same goes for the numerous casualties of the battle.
Even if they are embroidered in reduced size,
you can notice the realism of the postures of the corpses, and even the head separated from its’ torso…

Official Bayeux Tapestry museum

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