It's 39 in Melbourne today: people are moving rather slowly around campus. But a respectable number of first-year students turned up to hear a lecture about the Bayeux Tapestry (Ok, I know: it's really an embroidery) as the first of two lectures on medieval romance warfare. This is one of our new interdisciplinary subjects, called Homer to Hollywood. They have already looked at the Iliad, for example; while my lecture on Wednesday is on The Song of Roland.
Today's lecture couldn't help but frame its discussion with the problem of medievalism that occupies me these days: how can we tell the medieval thing from the medievalist contexts and frames around it?
It was also fun to think about the difficulties of actually observing the tapestry, short of heading off on a field-trip to Bayeux. I had access to a good CD-Rom, but I couldn't easily download jpeg files for a powerpoint presentation. There are lots of good pictures in books, but they cannot give anywhere near an idea of the scope and scale of the thing.
One picture I got onto the powerpoint, but can't translate into a format blogger will recognise is a photograph of the tapestry hung around the walls and arches of Bayeux cathedral, too high for the eye to read comfortably, suggesting the tapestry's commemorative and possibly civic function: "look what a big tapestry belongs to this town!"
But there are lots of great web resources. For anyone interested in how technology facilitates the study of the middle ages, here are three great sites.
Images of discrete panels, in terrific colour and detail.
A panoramic thread, which you can scroll backwards and forwards.
And the YouTube link. This animates (only minimally, and that's all it needs to do), the second half of the narrative.
I also found a great drawing of the winch the linen used to be stored on, with a big handle. Presumably when curious visitors asked, it could be rolled out for inspection, then rolled up again.
There's no doubt in my mind that our modern mediated digital images make it easier to study and read the images, though they do tend to flatten out the textual/textile "thatness" of the thing as object.
And thanks to Wombat World, and the link to it I found at In the Middle, here's a recent example of many appropriations of the tapestry. What I love about this version of the Simpsons' couch gag is that it reinforces my argument about the tapestry commemorating a war almost between families, rather than nations. And it's certainly nothing like the situation in the Song of Roland, where "Christians are right and pagans are wrong". The Normans and the Saxons don't really look all that different, except for the Normans' tonsured haircuts. William's and Harold's families were related by marriage; hence William's claim to the throne. They were about as different from each other as the Flanders and the Simpsons.
And of course, I also held up my Bayeux tapestry teatowel. And weirdly, actually used it this morning to mop up the mess I made when I spilt my waterbottle over my desk on the way to the second delivery of the lecture. How's that for appropriation!
And a postscript: as I write, it's 39 degrees, and the weather pixie has sensibly put on her bathers (this is, I think, a Melbourne usage: what do you call the garments you wear to go swimming where you are?), and I don't mind at all....