I was fortunate enough recently to take a trip to the gorgeous town of Bayeux to visit the eponymous tapestry.
69 meters of surprisingly vibrant material stretch around the cramped exhibition rooms, telling the story of William the Conqueror’s Invasion of England. The piece was estimated to be finished in the 11th Century, around 1078. That such a work has been looked after and protected for so long, is a real testament to the historical importance that it holds.
As you walk slowly around the room, you can practically breathe in the history. Gazing at the sheer variety of stitchwork styles and patterns, you can tell that many different people had worked on this. Like the grandest of Cathedrals, the tapestry was completed over a great deal of time. It took approximately a decade to complete, or so historians believe, having been commissioned at some point in the 1070s.
You can listen to a laughably dated audio guide as you walk round. With the press of a button, it will describe to you the separate panels on the walls giving valuable context and historical facts. Put the audio guide down though, and you can still understand the narrative that is being told – that’s how illustrative these panels are.
I’d remembered studying it as a child, but never fully understanding its purpose or full meaning.
Tapestry is a medium that is seldom used in today’s modern circles. Of course, there are a few artists who utilise it to good effect.
Two such artists jump to mind. Both have had works exhibited in Liverpool’s wonderful Walker Art Gallery, just a short train ride away from our home here in Leeds.
Charles Saatchi’s chosen son, Grayson Perry is one of these. His collection of textiles The Vanity of Small Differences, was a mammoth work of grotesqueness. Similarly to the Bayeux Tapestry, Perry’s work told a story, however this was one of acute social relevance. Covering issues such as police brutality, LGBT rights and bigotry – these colourful works were both accessible and challenging in the same breath,
Similarly colourful, yet brutally honest and wonderfully brave – Tabitha Moses’ Liverpool Art Prize Winning Investment catalogues the emotional journey that the artist and her husband embarked on, when they discovered their infertility. An abstract piece, Moses’ pieces are just as large as Perry’s yet they intimate a much quieter, desolate emotional landscape. Just as colourful yet not as brash or loud.
The tapestry is an art form worth following and supporting. The time and planning that goes into one’s conception has not cheapened over the ages.