Spotlight: Bayeux Tapestry (1070s AD) – 70 meters long!


The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry—nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long, and depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England–culminating in the Battle of Hastings.

The tapestry consists of some fifty scenes with Latin tituli (captions), embroidered on linen with colored woolen yarns. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral. The tapestry is now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France.

The tapestry was cited by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics as an example of early narrative art and British comic book artist Bryan Talbot has called it “the first known British comic strip.”

Because it resembles a movie storyboard and is widely recognized—by modern standards at least—as so distinctive in its artistic style, the Bayeux Tapestry has frequently been used or re-imagined in a variety of different popular culture contexts. It has inspired many modern political and other cartoons, including the 15 July 1944 cover of the New Yorker magazine marking D-Day; and George Gale’s pastiche chronicling the saga leading up to Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, published across six pages in The Times’s “Europa” supplement on 1 January 1973.

The tapestry has also inspired modern embroideries—notably the Overlord embroidery commemorating the Normandy landings invasion, now at Portsmouth—and the Prestonpans Tapestry, which chronicles the events surrounding the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.

A number of films have used sections of the tapestry in their opening credits or closing titles, including: the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Anthony Mann’s El Cid, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, Frank Cassenti’s La Chanson de RolandRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings.

The tapestry is referenced in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America. The apocryphal account of Queen Matilda’s creation of the tapestry is used, perhaps in order to demonstrate that Louis, one of the main characters, holds himself to mythological standards.

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