The Bayeux Tapestry – which is not actually a tapestry, but an embroidered cloth – is not the first continuous narrative in Western art history. The Romans created them about 1000 years earlier (see, for example, the sculptural decoration on Trajan’s Column in Rome). But this long, continuous story, which measures approximately 230 feet long, provides us with the Norman point of view of the Norman Conquest during the Romanesque period.
Only fifty scenes survive from the narrative on the embroidered linen. They tell the story of when William the Conqueror (Duke William II of Normandy) traveled across the English Channel to claim the throne of England after King Edward the Confessor died and made Harold the new King of England. Harold and William eventually fought in the Battle of Hastings where Harold was killed, thus making William the new King of England.
The scene above shows an English crowd gazing in awe at Halley’s Comet, which appeared soon after Harold’s coronation. The English thought this was a bad omen. The text above says, “ISTI MIRANT STELLA,” or “The men marvel at the star.” Beneath and in front of the scene appear ghostly images of the Norman’s boats that are preparing to cross the English Channel to conquer the English throne.
Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half brother of William the Conqueror, commissioned this work of art, so the tale certainly is biased; nevertheless, it presents a detailed account of warfare and Norman history.
Click here to see the tapestry in its entirety.
Some scenes of the story of the Norman Conquest on the Bayeux Tapestry