Inside and outside the frame: an integrated reading of the Bayeux Tapestry and its borders




Kleinsmith, Nicole Michele

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For the past three centuries, historians have speculated and argued over the dating, patronage and provenance of the Bayeux Tapestry. Researchers have pondered the Latin inscriptions; reflected on the techniques of production and the use of narrative devices; mined the Tapestry for information on a number of subjects, including architectural styles, costumes, modes of navigation, nascent heraldry, and weaponry; and focused on areas of special interest, especially on scenes such as the so-called "Aelfgyva episode." Additionally, the Tapestry has been described as an epic and/or a panegyric; it has even been compared to a chanson de geste, a Shakespearian play, a film, and a cartoon; it has been "deconstructed," and finally turned into a "hypertext" accessible via the internet. Yet, in spite of many promises, the borders of the Bayeux Tapestry remain largely unexplored to date. This apparent neglect may be due to the difficulty one encounters when attempting to retrieve the symbolism and the meanings of the pictographs, which, even at the time of production, may have been multiple and may have depended on the cultural level, social awareness and political leanings of the beholders. The purpose of this dissertation is to acquaint the reader with a novel approach to the reading of the Bayeux Tapestry, based on the premise that the border pictographs are charged with symbolic meaning; that their meaning(s) inflect(s), reflect(s) and even alter(s) the images in the center field; and that this synergic interplay helps in the discovery, and stimulates the generation of a new understanding and integrated interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry. For my research to be comprehensive and in order to uncover and decode some of the latent symbolic meanings, it was fundamental to take into account the social, cultural and political history of eleventh-century Northwestern Europe, and to acquire an appreciable knowledge of the lives of the important individuals illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. It was also necessary to be aware that, since the shaping of minds and the rewriting of history was already practiced in the eleventh century, the possibility existed that the Bayeux Tapestry was more than objective history recorded on cloth, but was someone's -- perhaps the patron's -- interpretation of historical events. Thus, this dissertation takes the reader on a journey inside and outside the frame to achieve an integrated reading of the Bayeux Tapestry and its borders.



Bayeux Tapestry, pictographs, borders