Symbolism in the Bayeux Tapestry

13 Nov

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Throughout the entirety of the Bayeux Tapestry, animals frequent the whole body of the work much more than people do. It is estimated that while there are 623 various people in tapestry itself, there are around:

  • 202 horses
  • 55 dogs
  • 506 other birds and animals (some mythical)

When embroidering the animals onto the Bayeux Tapestry, many of Aesop’s Fables are depicted throughout the borders of the Tapestry itself. The stories include; The Fox and the Crow, The Wolf and the Lamb, The Wolf and the Crane, and the Wolf and the Kid. Many of Aesop’s Fables have moral implications to them and have an undertone how ethics and values. The scenes have been greatly debated for some time but many believe the English women who embroidered the Tapestry could have put that in to express their descent and horror of the Norman Invasion of Britain.While Aesop’s Fables are one of the many uses of Symbolism throughout the Tapestry, I began investigating the animals themselves to see what their intended purpose could be to be used so heavily throughout the Bayeux Tapestry.

Falcons and Hawks

  • Many types of preditorial Birds are depicted throughout the Tapestry, but the Hawk and the Falcon seem to have the most sound symbolic intonations of them all. It’s depicted as the most prominent birds of prey throughout medieval history has a long history of being used for hunting. Falcon’s and Hawk’s have quite a few symbolic meanings to them. Many of the research I have found has pointed towards the Falcon/Hawk being Divine or Celestial Origin. Which, in one of the panels is sitting on King Harold’s arm. However, towards the end when William takes control, the bird is transferred over to his arm thus, showing the movement of power. Now, this particular meaning is usually associated with domesticated Falcons/Hawks and this includes Hawks trained for hunting. In some articles and sites, they had often said that Falcons and Hawks were actually the embodiment of evil thoughts.
“Using this logic, the Hawk resting on Harold’s wrist can be regarded as another proof for English interpretation secretly woven into the Tapestry: Harold was not a usuper but a rightful heir to the throne. The hawk might be a hint to Harold’s power being endangered; the fact that finally the hawk is transferred to William may reflect the English view that God granted the throne to William ‘for the people’s sins.'”

Here the quote http://www.medievalists.net/2011/10/26/symbolism-and-iconography-of-the-hawk-in-the-main-panel-of-the-bayeux-tapestry/

Horses

  • Horses tend to be all over the board on this one. Throughout this time, they were used to symbolize the social hierarchy of the aristocrats and throughout Europe were heavily used in artwork. Without the horse, the social status and the armed structure of the armies would not have been as engaging in the Bayeux Tapestry. Both men, William and Harold, were of wealth and power and the decorative motifs on the horses and men show a great deal of rank against other people depicted in the tapestry. The Horse tends to symbolize regal status, especially in such a piece like this. However, it does often symbolize chaos when people focus on its wild nature. The chaos depicted in the battle and the overall wild natures of the various scenes, greatly show that symbolic nature of the horse. However, with the beginning of the tapestry, the horse is heavily symbolized as a rank symbol rather than chaos, but could be a way of foretelling the impending battle ahead.

Dragon

  • Mythological creatures are depicted in the tapestry just as real animals are. They don’t have a set number of them, or are shown as frequently, but they do hold their place in a symbolic sense to it all. The dragon is depicted as a malevolent creature in most European history and is greatly associated with evil actions. In Europe, there are very few examples where the dragon is depicted in a good way and one being the such as Y Ddraig Goch, the Red Dragon of Wales.

Wyvern

  • The Wyvern is a frequenter in British lore and is used for common mascots on teams now. However, back during the period of the Bayeux Tapestry, the Wyvern was greatly used as a coat of arms and was popular in family crests. The Wyvern is commonly thought of as a cousin of sorts to the Dragon. The only exceptions that the Wyvern has to the Dragon is that it can fly and stands on two legs instead of four. Usually, this mythological creature is used to depict heroism in European culture.

The Griffin

  • The Griffin is widely considered “powerful”. With the body mixing between a bird and a lion, the two play a big part in how the Griffin could have been conceived. The Lion is the King of beasts and the Eagle, the King of birds. The Griffin brings the two together to create a very powerful creature that is used greatly in European mythology. By combining these two, you have the “King of Creatures” which the Griffin was called many times. Usually, it was used to guard possessions and priceless objects, more of a guardian of sorts.

Lion

  • The Lion tends to have many various depictions throughout European history and is a frequenter in not only coat of arms, but stories as well. The Lion was very popular in Aesop’s fables and it is commonly known that throughout the Tapestry, Aesop’s fables were used to symbolize the people and tell a story in that way. In the fables, The Lion is used to symbolize bravery. With the connection, it could say that the fables are trying to show a common use in symbolism by connecting the story to the Bayeux Tapestry, as well as the Lion to showcase Bravery by one side of the war. In heraldry, the Lion is given many depictions. Here are a few attitudes:
Attitude Example Description
Rampant Lion Rampant.svg A “lion rampant” is depicted in profile standing erect with forepaws raised. The position of the hind legs varies according to local custom: the lion may stand on both hind legs, braced wide apart, or on only one, with the other also raised to strike; the word rampant is often omitted, especially in early blazon, as this is the most usual position of a carnivorous quadruped;Note: the term sergeant denotes the same position, but is only used in reference to griffins and dragons.
Passant Lion Passant.svg A “lion passant” is walking, with the right fore paw raised and all others on the ground. A “Lion of England” denotes a lion passant guardant Or, used as an augumentations.Note: A lion thus depicted may be called a “leopard” (see discussion below).
Statant Lion Statant.svg A “lion statant” is standing, all four feet on the ground, usually with the forepaws together. This posture is more frequent in crests than in charges on shields.
Salient Lion Salient.svg A “lion salient” is leaping, with both hind legs together on the ground and both forelegs together in the air. This is a very rare position for a lion, but is also used of other heraldic beasts.
Sejant Lion Sejant.svg A “lion sejant” is sitting on his haunches, with both forepaws on the ground.
Sejant erect Lion Sejant Erect.svg A “lion sejant erect” is seated on its haunches, but with its body erect and both forepaws raised in the “rampant” position (this is sometimes termed “sejant-rampant”).
Couchant Lion Couchant.svg A “lion couchant” is lying down, but with the head raised.
Dormant Lion Dormant.svg A “lion dormant” is lying down with its eyes closed and head lowered, resting upon the forepaws, as if asleep.
(The images and facts about the Lion’s were taken from Wikipedia. Everything has been backed up and proven to be factual in regards to this post.)

Lauren E.

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