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One of the biggest, most ambitious and most famous pieces of cloth art has a controversial secret mostly known to those in the custom embroidery stitching world.
The Bayeux Tapestry, the 11th-century cloth depiction of the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings, is one of the most important pieces of art ever made.
However, despite its name, the Bayeux Tapestry was possibly stitched in England and is actually a piece of embroidery, rather than a tapestry, which has frustrated historians and experts in needlework for decades.
Why Is It Not A Tapestry?
One of the points of confusion for people discussing tapestry in general and the Bayeux Tapestry, in particular, is that there are two main definitions for what a tapestry is.
The art of tapestry is defined as works of art that are woven on a loom, which typically starts with a plain weave that has threads of different colours (and in some cases different material) woven into it to make intricate designs.
The broader, and more controversial definition to some historians is that a tapestry is any large piece of cloth art with images, typically made using stitching and embroidery rather than weaving.
During the middle ages and up until the end of the 18th century, the tapestry was considered to be the most ornate, most opulent and most expensive medium for creating art outside of statues, because of how much work goes into even a coarse tapestry.
The Victoria and Albert Museum argued that making a square metre of coarse tapestry on a handloom could take up to a month for a single person, although most tapestries and embroideries were made by multiple artists simultaneously.
Embroidery and fine needlework also took an exceptionally long time but was also more commonly found in England and Western Europe at the time.
Why Could It Be English?
The name of the Bayeux Tapestry comes from the Bayeux Cathedral where the tapestry was first found in 1476. However, analysis of the needlework and certain details of the cloth itself have led some analysts to suggest it was made in England.
This analysis, published by Sir Frank Stanton, suggest that Bishop Odo, half-brother of William the Conqueror and Earl of Kent, commissioned the piece for the Bayeux Cathedral that he also had built.
The dyes used in the cloth have been found in other English embroideries and cloth of the time, the style resembles Opus Angelicanum, an English style of fine needlework famous throughout Europe at the time, and several parts of the Latin text throughout the embroidery have hints of Anglo-Saxon.