[HNW] The Creation Tapestry of the Girona Cathedral

SNSpies@aol.com SNSpies at aol.com
Tue Jul 19 21:38:46 PDT 2005


I'd also  be interested in finding out exactly when the Bayeux "tapestry" 
started to  be called a tapestry rather than an embroidery. 14th century? 
century? Does anyone have any sources that discuss the earliest  descriptions 
mentions of the work?

OK, I've had a chance to reread the chapter by Nicole de Reynies titled  
"Bayeux Tapestry, or Bayeux Embroidery? Questions of Terminology".  To  quote:
    "... we have no actual contemporary reference to  our artefact, but the 
earliest known, that of the 1476 inventory of the  cathedral of Bayeux, four 
centuries later, includes a highly precise  description:
    Item une tente tres longue et estroicte de telle, a  broderye de ymages 
et escripteaulx,
    faisant representation du conquest d'angleterre,  laquelle est tendue 
environ la nef de
    l'eglise le jour et par les octaves des reliques.  (accents missing)
The technical term employed here admits of no ambiguity: the piece is  
clearly called an embroidery, and not a tapestry.  One may add that the  meaning of 
the word 'broderie' has not changed since the Middle Ages.
    As for the word 'tente' ('une tente de telle), this  was quite rare in 
the late medieval period and during the Renaissance, at least  as applied to 
wall-hangings.  Gay's glossary cites only the 1476 inventory  and another item 
dating from 1599, while Havard's dictionary does not provide  many more 
examples.  It might be thought that the exceptional and  uninterrupted dimensions of 
the Bayeux artefact may have led to the application  of this rather specialised 
term (generally employed to refer to very large  rectangular canvas tents 
...), or perhaps to the assumption that the hanging had  been used to adorn one 
of those great canvas pavilions used in military  campaigns, for diplomatic 
meetings, and even during festivals.  However, it  is more likely that the word 
may have been a local term, since it is used to  refer to other items in the 
1476 cathedral inventory.  It could well be the  origin of the modern French 
word 'tenture' (hanging).
    It should be noted that this term 'tenture' was  unknown in the medieval 
period, appearing only at the end of the sixteenth  century.  Then as now, in 
current usage, it referred to any textile wall  decoration, either completely 
covering the wall or hung on it as a panel.   {Bear with me ... this is needed 
for the final conclusions!}
    The word 'tapisserie' is found from the fourteenth  century onwards, but 
it is used to convey different meanings, depending on the  period.  When it 
occurs without a technical complement, it appears to  describe woven tapestry, 
as we understand it today.  ... In other contexts,  however, we find the term 
'tapisserie' frequently used in the sense of a  wall-hanging, its qualifier 
indicating embroidery or paint tapestry [I assume  this means needlepoint]: deux 
chambres de tapisserie de broudure, ou sont les  histoires de Octavien et du 
roi Priam; .. pour avoir fourni le canebas ... pour  troys grandes pieces de 
tapisserie faictes en broderye ...  [more  information about how the word 
'tapisserie', unless it is referring to what we  know of as tapestry, always came 
with a modifier which then made it a reference  to a wall hanging that was 
embroidered or needlepointed, etc.]
    To sum up: found on its own, the word 'tapisserie'  seems most often to 
have referred to a smooth tapestry; when accompanied by a  complement, it 
indicated other items, by way of comparison with the major  tapestry medium which 
they imitated.
    It is thus clear that, at the beginning of the  eighteenth century, when 
Montfaucon used the term 'tapisserie' to describe the  Bayeux Tapestry [sic], 
he was employing a word in its then very general sense  [i.e.wall-hanging], 
and that he ought to have completed it in more precise  detail. [B. de 
Montfaucon, 'Les Monuments de la monarchie francoise, Paris,  Gandouin et Giffart, II, 
1730, p.2. 'This strip of tapestry was never  completed.  Men and horses, 
castles, towns and ll the rest have been woven  and painted in colours, but in 
between these detailed depictions, there remains  plain, unfilled canvas.  Those 
who embarked upon this tapestry lacked the  time to complete their work.']   
It is well-known that Montfaucon  never actually saw the artefact [no 
kidding!], and was mistaken as to the  embroiderers' intentions; but he did include it 
among his Monuments, devoting  several pages to its description ... The 
contemporary copies now in the Rare  Prints collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale 
de France bear the inscription:  Premiere partie de la tenture de Bayeux dite 
toilette du duc Guillaume.   The person who saw these drawings after they had 
been made thus used the term  'tenture' in its true original sense [See? I 
told you to be patient and it  would all become clear!} of wall-hanging.  And 
yet the word 'tapestry' has  held sway for over two hundred years ...
    How are we to explain this continued usage?   In his 1887 Glossaire 
archeologique du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance, Victor  Gay notes, in his entry on 
the Embroiderer:
    When one considers the fragmented items that have  survived of this 
once-flourishing industry, one is struck by the contrast  between them and modern 
output.  Although the embroiderer's art prospered  from the twelfth to the 
sixteenth century in almost every part of Europe, the  fact is that it remains 
today but a faint memory.  The fine, substantial  place it occupied in times past 
is now empty ...
    The point is confirmed by Louis de Farcy (1890),  who goes further to 
suggest the cause of this decline in popularity: it was the  widespread 
availability of tapestry in the fifteenth century that led to a  reduced demand for 
embroidery.  By the eighteenth century, embroidery had  more or less disappeared 
from household furnishings.
    To conclude, I am inclined to believe that the use  of the word 
'tapestry' to refer to the Bayeux artefact, without any specific  complement, reflects 
Montfaucon's original carelessness, but that it was  subsequently retained in 
order to spare the work any association with the  degrading image of 
embroidery, which by the eighteenth century had been reduced  to simple decoration for 
clothing, and by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries  was almost 
exclusively found in lingerie.  The Bayeux 'Tapestry' thus seems  to have preserved a 
title which, although inappropriate, has allowed it to be  associated with 
actual old tapestries: often monumental and prestigious, and  certainly celebrated 
    In the interests both of the old terminology and of  modern scholarly 
language, I conclude with the plea that this present volume of  essays should 
contain one of the following titles: La Toile brodee de Bayeux, or  more simply 
La Broderie de Bayeux (The Bayeux Embroidery), or perhaps La  Broderie 
monunmentale de Bayeux (The Great Bayeux Embroidery) -- the added  adjective at least 
avoiding all possible confusion with the work of some local  ladies' 
needlework school."
[What I find disappointing is that even given the strongly-worded  conclusion 
that "we should in future refer to it as the Bayeux Embroidery, and  no 
longer as a 'Tapestry', and that all the assembled experts were in agreement  on 
this formal point ...", the book was published with the title "The Bayeux  
Tapestry: Embroidering the Facts of History".  Very disheartening.]


Nancy  Spies
Arelate Studio

"But  if by 'Liberal' they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, 
someone who  welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about 
the welfare  of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their 
jobs, their  civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes 
we can break  through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies 
abroad, if  that is what they mean by 'Liberal,' then I'm proud to say I'm a 
'Liberal'."  John F. Kennedy, 14 Sept 1960 

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