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TAXONOMY OF NARRATIVE

Scholarly writing about tapestry often organizes the material by period and provenance. As our main purpose was not to study the history of tapestry, but rather tapestry and text, we needed a different system of classification. The designers of the tapestries drew on many different literary sources: scripture, legend, myth, chronicle, romance, and drama. From these diverse texts they constructed visual narratives and iconographic representations. Narrative usually consists of characters and events aligned sequentially in time and space. Although there are exceptions, narrative is fundamentally a linear mode. So the question we asked was: How are characters, events, time and space represented in tapestry? This, we discovered, is done primarily in three different ways.

THREE NARRATIVE STYLES

  • A/ Linear
  • B/ Non-Linear
  • C/ Iconographic

Figure 1 Bayeux Embroidery Scenes 57 and 58: Harold’s death, William conquers England

Figure 1 shows the last panels of the first narrative textile to have survived from this period. It was embroidered in the 11th century and can now be seen in the museum at Bayeux, France. It is over 70 yards long and about 20” high. In fifty-eight scenes it depicts the Norman invasion of England. It was probably designed by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and half brother to William the Conqueror, who oversaw the manufacture of it in an Anglo Saxon workshop. It is a Norman version of the invasion of 1066, and as such can be considered to be Norman propaganda.1

1 Wolfgang Grape, The Bayeux Tapestry, (Munich, New York, 1994), Prestel, pp. 79-80.

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