A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter V ROMANESQUE ART: EMBROIDERY

THE Bayeux Tapestry (fig. 9) must have been made within a few years of the Conquest, and is therefore the earliest example of the craft-work of this period. It was probably ordered by Bishop Odo, the Conqueror's brother (who figures prominently in it, leading men in battle and sharing in his brother's counsels), for his Cathedral of Bayeux, in which city it still remains. It has usually, until recently, been considered French work, but there seems far more likelihood that it was made in England.

For one thing, English embroiderers, as we have seen, had by this time gained an international reputation, and the Bishop would therefore be likely to have commissioned them to carry out an important work of this kind. Secular pieces of the same type are known to have been produced in this country: for instance, a lady of Ely in the tenth century is reported to have embroidered on a curtain the exploits of her husband, a Saxon ealdorman. Besides, there is no record at all of other embroidery emanating from Normandy: the attribution to Matilda herself and to her ladies is a purely imaginary one. Finally, Professor Lethaby has shown, not only from the style of the drawing, but from certain details, such as the spelling of names, the type of lettering, and the accuracy of local architecture, that the work is much more likely to have been of English than of French origin.

In its figure-drawing it forms, indeed, a link between Anglo-Saxon art and the Romanesque style of the twelfth century, and while it perpetuates the liveliness and some of the mannerisms (e.g. the exaggeratedly small feet and ankles) of pre-Conquest outline-drawings, it also establishes a new type of figure--long, loose-limbed, and small-headed-- which was to recur in a number of wall-paintings and illumi

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