Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Medieval Studies

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The Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot-long, 950-year-old Anglo-Norman embroidery has baffled historians resulting in extensive (and diverse) scholarship since its rediscovery in the eighteenth century. The Bayeux Tapestry plays a preeminent role (outside of contemporaneous manuscripts and texts) in deciphering aspects of medieval life in England through its visual representation of the age of the Norman Conquest. Long-standing assumptions about the Bayeux Tapestry’s commission, production, and purpose have accumulated through the years based on a single inventory document from 1476 postulating its intended location and function as a religious ornament for Bayeux Cathedral. Modern academics have explored themes readily visible within the Tapestry attempting to interpret them, but a relationship between the Bayeux Tapestry and its utility in Anglo-Norman England cannot yet be accurately constructed. Due to the lack of documentation on the Tapestry’s origins, the approach taken by scholars in an effort to retell its story remains fixed in the idea that the Bishop of Bayeux commissioned it to serve as an ecclesiastical decoration for the consecration of Bayeux Cathedral in 1077.Thus, room for new ideas regarding the nature of the Bayeux Tapestry have been stifled. Therefore, the objective of my analysis of the Bayeux Tapestry is to offer a new perspective for the interpretation of the Tapestry’s purpose in history by exploring previously overlooked facets of medieval life. Through comprehensive examinations of medieval noblewomen’s prominent roles in society, Anglo-Saxon traditions in education, and the functions of fables and humor as depicted in the embroidery friezes, the Bayeux Tapestry is revealed as indisputably a didactic tool for eleventh-century Anglo-Norman literary and historical education, thus constructing a new narrative for the Tapestry as undeniably instructive rather than decorative.