An engaging and comprehensive study of one of history’s most celebrated artefacts. This edition features a colour reproduction of the Tapestry, with a scene-by-scene commentary.
Acclaimed art historian Carola Hicks opens her ‘life story of a masterpiece’ – the first part of this engaging book – with a collection of quotes about the Tapestry from well-known figures from history. Winston Churchill notes that it is a ‘story told with irresistible charm’, while Charles Dickens takes a less enthused view, stating that the Tapestry is ‘the work of very feeble amateurs’; Napoleon Bonaparte insisted that it recorded ‘one of the most memorable deeds of the French nation’, while Heinrich Himmler claimed that the Tapestry was ‘important for our glorious and cultured Germanic history’. Such a range of voices and reactions seems appropriate for one of the world’s most famous artefacts. Throughout its long life its very origins have fuelled controversy; it has been lost and found, dismissed and treasured, used as a propaganda tool and spirited through war zones. In short, the Tapestry’s history is almost as dramatic as the events it depicts.
This volume brings together two works and superb colour photographs to provide both a comprehensive historical background and a detailed description of the Bayeux Tapestry. Hicks’s compelling account of the Tapestry’s creation and history is followed by an extensive scene-by-scene analysis of its content by Bayeux Museum curator Sylvette Lemagnen. Together, these studies offer a rounded picture of the Tapestry, detailing what we have learned from the artefact itself (the gestures of the figures, the inscriptions, the border motifs and the evidence of repairs) and from the extraordinary story of its rediscovery and later political appropriation by Napoleonic France and the Third Reich.
Hicks’s ‘biography’ begins with a riveting description of the events portrayed in the Tapestry, and goes on to explore theories about its patrons and how it was made. But this is just the beginning of this artwork’s fascinating history. Hicks traces its progress through the ages: for centuries it lay ignored in Bayeux Cathedral, until it was ‘discovered’ in the 18th century. It went on to become a symbol of power and a propaganda tool – saved by townsfolk during the French Revolution, used by Napoleon to promote his own conquest and claimed by the Nazis as a piece of Aryan art.
In the second part of The Bayeux Tapestry, Sylvette Lemagnen takes the reader through the Tapestry frame by frame, explaining the context behind each scene and drawing our attention to features of particular interest – not just the iconic moments, such as Harold being pierced by an arrow or the appearance of Halley’s Comet, but the smaller details and incidents of drama. The result is a thorough and absorbing interpretation of one of the most celebrated artefacts in history.
The images of the Tapestry that accompany Lemagnen’s commentary, sourced from the Bayeux Museum, capture all the colour, detail and texture of the original embroidered cloth. The Bayeux Tapestry offers a wonderful opportunity to explore and enjoy this medieval masterpiece.
Carola Hicks was a British art historian. Born in West Sussex, England, Hicks studied archaeology at Edinburgh University. She worked at the British Museum researching the Sutton Hoo ship burial before becoming a research fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. She was Curator of the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral, and then became a Fellow and Director of Studies in Art History at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her books include Animals in Early Medieval Art (1993), Improper Pursuits: The Scandalous Life of Lady Di Beauclerk (2001) and, alongside The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece (2006), two other ‘biographies’ of works of art: The King’s Glass: A Story of Tudor Power and Secret Art (2007) and Girl in a Green Gown, The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait (2011). Hicks died in 2010.
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