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Symbolism in the Bayeux Tapestry

13 Nov


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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


Historical Context

11 Sep

As I gather knowledge about the Battle of Kadesh during the life of a 19th Dynasty Pharaoh a picture is painted that reveals that truth about story telling:  Sometimes it’s not the whole story.  Each side of the battle line has a different story.  1400 years later, Trajan’s Column tells a one sided story of a Dacian war.  And again, another 1,000 years later the Bayeux Tapestry provides a narrative of the Norman conquest of England.  Throughout history we have historic events that were recorded in art.  Many that we see today only survive with the winning conquerors because the losers don’t get much say.  I began to wonder if I could identify contemporary art giving a one-sided account of history.

The 19th Century gives me a good example with TV and Movies telling accounts of cowboys and Indians in the old American west.  The storyline is set in favor of the frontier families that brought the Industrial Revolution behind the US Cavalry; a storyline characterized by stagecoaches transporting success over the landscape that was once inhabited by the Indians that jeopardize European success.  Eventually, the Spaghetti Westerns put their own artistic flare on the stories of the Wild West.

What about Cartoons?  Albeit, a political cartoon is often read with a conscious acknowledgement that the cartoon will likely be weighted for politics, but a Disney movie on the other hand can indoctrinate a generation to believe erroneous facts about a well-documented history.  It does not appear that fact and history are destines to be in sync through time even when history is well documented.


To briefly compare a column to a tapestry…

10 Sep

The Bayeux Tapestry and Trajan’s Column advertise the victories of war in an effort to empower and preserve their civilization. The Bayeux Tapestry is currently considered to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo to maintain a favorable alliance with his half-brother, William the Conqueror. Throughout the embroidery Odo is often depicted in close proximity to William. It is interesting to consider that the impressive Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned to transmit a subliminal message to one individual. Regardless of the embroideries fictitious elements, it contains a remembrance of not just one historical incident, but a timeline of events which could be recalled by the public such as Haley’s Comet. Additionally, Harold and William’s parties appear to be rendered by a nonpartisan as the embroidery depicts favorable imagery of both sides. This piece is an exhibition of facts and some suggestions of truth, such as Trajan’s Column, a visual transcript of Emperor Trajan’s triumph over Dacia. The panels on the column were influenced by compositions produced by military artist, who maintained a visual record while they traveled with the Roman army, as well as diary entries written by Roman officials. The accuracy of the depictions heightens the reality of the narrative for the viewer. At the columns completion, Trajan dedicated the monument to the fallen warriors of the republic. This endearing inscription humanizes the emperor and his campaign as a necessary sacrifice. Similar to the Bayeux Tapestry, the column illustrates both armies as comparable opponents, presenting equally their achievements through the wars. The column has provided a breadth of information to historians regarding medical care, weaponry, and architecture. These elements, though of the war, surpass the narrative as if to visualize the subplot of accomplishment that were obtained through the capture of Dacia. The Trajan column makes the viewer aware of the inventions and complications of victory. Between these two artifacts, propaganda offers the viewer a detailed understanding of achievement and events through commemorative compositions.


RESPONSE to The Bayeux Tapestry; the origins

4 Sep


            When looking through the meters of embroidered history on ancient linen, I begin to wonder what is truth and what is myth? As if the borders where calling me to question the reality stitched before my eyes. As history, recalling what was said in class “is made by those who win”, and those who win are not always the most sincere. I want to focus this response on artistic credit, who “won” in this case, and who is given the credit? I can’t help but wonder, how much do we genuinely know, more than how much are our minds being fed?

          The matter of importance is that the work has survived through out many eras, illustrating numerous truths to us, about lifestyle within a context in time. Who commissioned and created it, is not as crucial as what the work has to say. Regardless I do find it significant for this matter to receive a degree of contemplation.

     What I intend to highlight is the origin of the tapestry, which actually is not a tapestry by definition, but more of an embroidered hanging. Having that clear one may also observe what French legends say. Word has it that the Bayeux Tapestry was actually commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William’s Wife. There are many elements that make me want to believe this legend, legends are legends for a reason. The work manifests itself through the labor of women’s needles; I wouldn’t be surprised if an educated woman of the time had commissioned the work.

       Considering the materials used to elaborate this work, thread, needles, and fabric. Stereotypically speaking these materials and crafts were for the most part a woman’s activity, certainly with vast exceptions. An embroidered fabric may be rather personal, and used as tokens of sentimental value. I might be overanalyzing now, but taking for example World War I, French women would send embroidered post cards to their lovers and brothers who were off at war. It seems rational, that if Queen Matilda had commissioned something for her husband, it would aim for a symbolic token.

       Perhaps some ideas are fresh in my mind regarding feminism and the arts, as recently such has influenced me in other readings. Or that just last night I watched a film on Joan of Arc.  Triggering a dislike for manipulation of individuals for self-benefit by both the church and the state of the time, which I find grotesque, so indeed I may sound somewhat bias.

     Though historical writings first mention the Tapestry in the inventory of the Bayeux Cathedral in 1476. “It is reported by Wace and Odericus Vitalis that, after William’s death, dishonest servants looted hanging from his palace at Rouen; and it is interesting to note that at the time of William’s death, Bishop Odo was actually imprisoned at Rouen. As he was immediately released, and even attended Williams funeral, might he not – in the general confusion- have connived at the Tapestry being stolen from the castle at Rouen so that he could have in Bayeux?”(1)

      So much left unknown, facts only lead me to speculation. As the final stitches of the tapestry that have been lost to deterioration, other figures in the work remain a mystery. Like the undefined characters such as Elfygy and her identity, will remain nothing but questions and possible suggestions of what could be truth. When I look at those borders, mythical creatures accompanied by those that are real, it makes me wonder if that was a conscious comment on history and its tales, but that too will remain nothing but a ponder.

-Nicole Matta Santos

Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry

4 Sep

Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry

             The Bayeux Tapestry is a timeless piece of artwork and an extremely important historical document depicting the Norman invasion of England and the battle of Hastings.  It is currently housed in the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in France.  In 1855 Elizabeth Wardle decided, “England should have a copy of its own.”  She was, as a member of the Leek Embroidery Society, a skilled embroiderer in her own right.  Her Husband, Thomas Wardle, was a leader in the silk industry.  The two were cousins that wed in 1857 and proudly bore 14 children.  Mrs. Wardle’s connection to the textile industry proved quite valuable when Thomas was able to reproduce the woolen, dyed yarns needed to replicate the tapestry.

           Mrs. Wardle was inspired to recreate the Bayeux Tapestry after viewing a series of hand-colored photographs of the tapestry at the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria and Albert Museum.  In total, 39 women, including Elizabeth Wardle, worked on the recreation.  Of those 39, 35 worked on the actual embroidery process.  Each woman completed a section of the tapestry in length anywhere from six inches to twenty feet.  Elizabeth Wardle herself completed the first, over eight foot long section.  The replica tapestry was finished in approximately one year.

Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry would be a perfect replica of the original were it not for a few changes the women of the Leek Embroidery Society intentionally made.  They refused to let their hard work and their names fall into anonymity like those of the women that produced the original tapestry.  They attached thin, blue linen borders to the top and bottom of their replica.  The bottom border contains the signature of every woman that worked on the embroidery.  Also, the women, in an attempt to censor the tapestry, removed every instance of male genitalia, be it human or animal.  After its completion, Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry was exhibited across Europe and even ventured to the United States before returning to Reading.  The replica found its permanent home in the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1993 where it is displayed as a continuous strip in a specialty case.


“Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry.” Reading Museum Town Hall. Reading Borough Council 2012, 08 Feb 2012. Web. 4 Sep 2012.

Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry at the Museum of Reading. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sep 2012. <;.

Randolph, Octavia. “Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry.” . N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sep 2012. <;.


Sarah Ribble

Discussion Questions

4 Sep

Compare these three art objects — a tapestry, a frieze, and a column — and discuss their respective artistic styles.
These art objects were created to celebrate the military victories of three ancient rulers: Duke William of Normandy, Ramses II, and Emperor Trajan. In your opinion, how effective are each in illustrating the narrative?

Finally, what in your opinion is more important: that ancient art objects like these portray history accurately or are a part of a greater historical context?