by R. Howard Bloch
The Bayeux Tapestry chronicles the Norman conquest of England in a series of embroidered panels, laboriously stitched to a length of nearly 230 feet. It is believed to date from the late 11th or early 12th century, making it one of a handful of textiles to survive from that time. The narrative stitched onto the cloth has been compared to modern comic strips by artists like as Scott McCloud and Brian Talbot, while others have likened to movie storyboards. The sense of action and moving forward is unlike anything else from the time, making the Bayeux Tapestry truly unique. In his ‘biography’ of the embroidery, R. Howard Bloch explains the story told in the tapestry, and how it matches up to other historic accounts of the events surrounding the Battle of Hastings. He also explores the tapestry’s cultural impact, from parodies of it on the cover of magazines to the Nazi’s desire to claim it to show Germanic dominance during WWII.
If you’ve never seen the Bayeux Tapestry, I recommend clicking this image and taking a few minutes to scroll through the image. Sure, the human figures aren’t Michelangelo’s, but I’m quite impressed all the same. The tapestry would have been an exhausting labor of months or years, almost certainly by women. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it.
Although it’s an unusual and unique work of art, the Bayeux Tapestry rarely gets studied in survey art history courses. My instructor may have mentioned it in passing, but then she moved right along to manuscripts and cathedrals. Granted, textiles in general get short shrift in the art history world, unless you specialize in them, but I’d have guessed that the aesthetic qualities and narrative drive of the tapestry would have bumped it into greater prominence. But since it is something that was skipped over in my art education, I really enjoyed learning more about the tapestry and its history.
I don’t know how appealing this book would be to a popular audience – Bloch spends a lot of time talking about specific scenes or details of the tapestry, and without photographs it can be difficult to know what he means. So if you do read it, it wouldn’t hurt to have an image of the tapestry, like the one above, open on your computer screen so that it can be referenced as needed. I made the mistake of listening to this as an audio book, and it was frustrating because I constantly had to return to the computer to look up what he was talking about.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: Another little break for school…
2010: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
2009: Doodle of the Day: Twilight
2008: Monarchy Mania Giveaway Winners