Visual Meaning in the Bayeux Tapestry

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This study explains how images in the Tapestry that are generally dismissed as purely decorative, random, or historically mistaken are in fact none of these, but meaningful devices observable in other medieval works. In light of major studies in medieval iconography, historiography, and visual narrative, it shows how apparent anomalies in the Tapestry are to be read as devices deliberately designed to help interpret and add thematic depth to the narrative. The volume shows, for example, how the image-filled borders help the observer interpret the scenes they accompany, and that, far from being random, they respond to a program which, among other things, determines the positioning of Aesop’s fables and other images.


“This latest study will be of the greatest interest to students of the Tapestry and to general readers. An especially valuable feature is his consideration of the border images of the Tapestry in relations to the main story, a subject upon which there has been lively debate in recent years, and to which Dr. McNulty has already made a distinguished contribution.” – The Rev H. E. J. Cowdrey, DD FBA, St. Edmund Hall, Oxford

“ . . . a seminal and highly recommended work of impeccable scholarship, representing an enduring contribution to our historical understanding for, and appreciation of, the Bayeux Tapestry.” – Wisconsin Bookwatch

Table of Contents

Table of Contents (main headings):
1. Introduction: Anomalies of the Tapestry’s account; Pictures as vehicles of historical narrative
2. Developments since Stenton: Modern difficulties with Tapestry’s account; expanding context of Tapestry studies; factuality and allusion, causation, invention, and ambiguity
3. Borders: Relationships among Images: Relatedness of the borders to the main narrative; formal properties of the borders; ‘Hierarchies’ of relevance; Relationships of fables to the main narrative
4. A Case Study: Harold in France: Themes - the Channel crossing; William’s rescuing Harold; scene of Aelfgyva; scene near Mont-Saint-Michel; William’s campaign in Brittany; gift of arms and Harold’s oath-giving
5. The Tapestry’s “Kind”: genre of the sui generis; Quest narrative; Pictorial narrative; Accompanied narrative – cinema; Allusive narrative – comics, political cartoons
Bibliography; Index

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