The Bayeux Tapestry is Neither
Last night, we went to a lecture at the Smithsonian. The topic de nuit was the Bayeux Tapestry, and the lecturer was a historian who teaches at the Naval Academy. It wasn’t the *strongest* Smithsonian lecture I’ve ever attended, but it was a good one, and I learned a lot, including:
- The “Tapestry” is actually an embroidered cloth; while some scholars have taken to calling it the Bayeux Embroidery, that name isn’t really catching on.
- The Tapestry has been kept in Bayeux for centuries, but it was almost definitely made in England, most likely commissioned by monks in Canterbury and embroidered by nuns in the same town.
- The Tapestry was likely created in a fashion similar to today’s graphic novels — someone wrote the script, another person designed the drawings, another person (or people) “inked” the drawings (completed the embroidery), another person added the lettering.
The lecturer had lots of interesting stories to tell, both about the Anglo-Saxons, and he Normans, and the history of the actual piece of fabric (including its near-destruction as a wagon-cover during the French Revolution). I was particularly intrigued by his discussion of various explanations for some of the border designs, including retellings of Aesop’s fables (which might be read as condemning predatory activity or as praising predatory activity or as essentially saying “a pox on the houses of both predators and prey!”)
I was also intrigued by how the speaker used the Tapestry to discuss military history — how battles were typically fought on the Continent as opposed to England, what was the nature of military leadership among the Anglo-Saxons as opposed to the Normans, whether lances were couched as early as the Norman invasion or not until the First Crusade… While there are many aspects of life at a military academy that I could *never* handle, I was intrigued by the notion of studying liberal arts in such a setting.
All in all, a decent way to kick off the new year of lectures! (And a good thing, too, because the Smithsonian has changed its format for these lectures, and there are far fewer that look interesting than in years past…)
Mindy, who now wants to learn more, more, more