Bayeux Tapestry

18 Sep

When I saw the Bayeux Tapestry at the National Museum, it immediately caught my eye. I remembered learning about the tapestry, which is actually an embroidered cloth and not an actual tapestry, in my art history text book during my junior year. Although the display seen in the museum is a replica, the actual tapestry is almost 70 meters long and is held at a permanent museum in Reading. It was probably commissioned by William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Bishop Odo. Just like the 11th-century original, the replica depicts the story of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of England in 1066. It continues on a second scene in which William the Conqueror orders a fleet of ships to be made. The next scene shows men cutting down trees with axes for lumber to build the ships, followed by five shipbuilders working with planks of wood on two separate vessels. The tools that the builders are using in the tapestry, including axes, drills, adze and other tools, were commonly found in graves or excavated settlement sites. They are copies of the originals used during the Viking Age to build Viking ships. The Tapestry is an excellent representation of the Romanesque period of Irish history because it literally depicts a way of life. It’s style itself was nothing unique, either. Although it is the only example of Middle Aged narrative of its kind still remaining today, it was not uncommon to see similar works around the time period it was created. All other works have since been destroyed, but there are still records of early Norman and Anglo-Saxen embroidery that evolved from even earlier Scandinavian examples.

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Although the Battle of Hastings seems to have directly shaped the future of Medieval England and not Ireland, it would have prominent significance in the latter further on in history. During the Norman conquest of England, Duke William II of Normandy and Anglo-Saxon King Harold II were fighting over the only real road along the coastline of Sussex that led to London. Obviously, Harold lost the battle, and with it his life as well. This left England exposed and open for the taking. The Norman invasion of England was planned and executed by William the Conqueror on a grand scale. He recruited from France, Germany, and other parts of Europe and his is conquest was swift and ruthless. Although the Normans came to Ireland shortly after, it was a lot more casual and accidental; a more personal affair if anything. And yet, had England never been conquered by the Normans, they may never have come to Ireland. Even though their first settlement on this island was over 800 years ago, it still owes much of its history and settlement to the character of the country itself. It all began with King Henry II, king of England, who had always been interested in Ireland since he took the thrown in 1154 but too busy to fully direct his attention to the mysterious island. It was when Dermot MacMurrough, a warrior king living in Ireland, joined the struggle for political supremacy in the country that the real issues began. When he was pushed out of power in 1166, he asked Henry for his support to invade Ireland and conquer it again, but this time under the king’s name. Of course the king accepted, and this started the conflict within the country that would last decades. 

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Around the time of the Norman invasion of England, Ireland was doing pretty well for itself. There are a few works of art found in the National Museum which reflect the prosperous time that Ireland was having while their neighboring England was under seize. One of these is the Clonmacnoise Crozier. Clonmacnoise was a monastery founded in 546. It became a major center for religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade. Between the 8th and 12th centuries, the monastery saw its greatest period of growth. This growth peaked during the 11th century during which the crozier was made. The snake-like animals were created during the this peak by artisans associated with the site. The crozier along with a few other metal and stone pieces represented the highest artistic talent of the time. Another piece is the ImageBreac Maodhóg reliquary, which is a shrine of Saint Maedoc depicting the bishop and patron saint of the kings of Leinster, made around the same time. It is much larger than normal Irish house-shaped shrines, which makes it a lot more unique. It was created around the time that Dermot MacMurrough’s ancestors first came into power as rulers of the Leinster area. They would remain in control of the area, despite the fighting to come, until Dermot’s death. The size and decoration of the shrine shows the prosperity in Ireland at the time, despite the struggle going on in nearby England.  

Even though the Bayeux Tapestry does not directly depict Irish history, it does foreshadow the decades that would follow the Normans conquering England. The Normans were responsible for introducing so much into Irish culture that they play a major role in Irish history. 

Elizabeth Zona

References

Battle of Hastings 1066. (2000). Retrieved September 17, 2013, from History Learning Site:

     http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/hastings_battle_1066.htm

Bayeux tapestry. (2007). Retrieved September 17, 2013, from Memory of the World website:

     http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/flagship-project-activities/

     memory-of-the-world/register/full-list-of-registered-heritage/registered-heritage-page-1/

     bayeux-tapestry/

Schama, S. (2011, February 17). Invasions of Ireland from 1170 – 1320. Retrieved September 17, 2013,

     from BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/middle_ages/ireland_invasion_01.shtml

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