The tapestry of Bayeux : take a trip to the first comic strip !

Noman horsemen attacking Harold from 900th anniversary of Battle of Hastings (1066)



The Tapestry of Bayeux describes in 58 wool embroided scenes on a 17 metre long monumental piece of linen handmade between 1077 and 1082 the glorious (or of course, notorious if you are British) Battle of Hastings in 1066, when William the Conqueror invaded England. It was long called the « Tapestry of Queen Mathilde », romanticizing the faithfull spouse, like Penelope with Ulysses, embroidering the achievement of her heroic husband. In reality it seems that the piece was  ordered by the Duke of Normandy's half brother, Odo, who happened to be the Archbishop of Bayeux. A work of  national promotion, used  later again by Napoleon I when England declared war on France in 1803. The tapestry was exhibited in Bayeux to reinforce « passion and general enthusiasm of the people ». The British experts criticized the accuracy of the story which exaggerated the merits of the Norman invaders and underlined a few anachronisms and mistakes.

Of course history is always written by the victors, but still the tapestry offers an amazing testimony to the skills of the distant XIth century. God lies in its details : what people wore, how they built boats, which weapons they used, how they prepared for fights... You can see they even had barbecue parties ! The landscapes are also precisely drawn from our Bay of Mont Saint Michel to your Westminister Castle, with a cosmic twist telling us about the passing Comet which was to be identified by Edmond Halley later in the XVIII th century.

The Bayeux tapestry is not only a  picture of its time but also an incredibly modern piece of art :  it is the first cartoon ever drawn,  embroided in this particular case.

With a sophisticated graphic design and a very coherent narration, it provides the basis for comic strips as story telling. It uses the « overlap technique », with  a kind of zoom on some of the important scenes. What is even more impressive is the use of ellipse in time ; These jumps in time which looks perfectly natural and familiar for us brought up with  TV shows and advertising cuts, were smashingly innovative. Also quite daring for the time are some almost pornographic scenes which can be discovered as features in the freize . When the English King Harold is arrested, one notices in the freize a man with an erection running after a naked woman... Sorry we are dirty Frenchies !

In 1975, it is not a chance the weekly « le Canard enchaîné » [1] was eager to parody the Bayeux tapestry to protest against erotic censorship creating a porno sacré (sacred porn) and used it politically many times.

Being a reference for comic strip in general, Bayeux tapestry has been parodied many times, one famous example, is as I quoted in the piece about D-Day, was published in the New Yorker, when the allies step back on French territory to save our souls...

Another famous parody is the one exhibited in L.A, telling the Star wars story.


Now you know the French or to be precise the Normans invented comic strip...


[1]          (the Chained duck, a sort of « Private Eye »





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Aniza (non vérifié)

fév 22, 2016 · Reply

I really eejoynd reading this and was wondering, on a different scale, if you think this could work with early learners ages 3 1/2 to 5? I love it when these good listeners relate the stories I read to their real life experiences. In the beginning in the threes class, it was somewhat unrelated. However, as each new crop of threes come along, (the children that were exposed to the music literacy program from three months to threes seem to understand the process of engagement more than those kids who have not),the connectivity of real life to to stories is better.

Suraj (non vérifié)

mar 02, 2016 · Reply

Thank you so much for the links. I'm joining the blogs and craniteg a file for these great ideas. Maybe I'll video tape this engagement and share it. I'm excited about this!! Thanks bunches!