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Harold Godwinson, Hastings and Hollywood

By Stuart Frost

Conservation work on a section of a 19th photograph of the Bayeux Tapestry, February  2009.Long term readers of this blog will know that the Bayeux Tapestry is a subject that is close to my heart. Conservation work was recently completed on a section of one of two nineteenth-century photographic copies of the Bayeux Tapestry at the V&A.

One of the V&A’s photographs exists as a complete roll matching the length of the original tapestry. The other photograph was also once a roll but it was seperated into twenty-five sections in the past. It is one of these sections that has benefited from the attention of conservators Merryl Huxtable and Victoria Button at the V&A.

The surface of the photograph has been delicately cleaned. The photograph has also been removed from the textile to which it was attached, allowing the print(s) to be remounted onto Japanese paper. This will help reduce some of the unevenness in the print and will ensure that it looks as good as possible when it is mounted and displayed in a Discovery Area in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Click on the photographs to find out more about the work that has been completed. I’ve posted other photographs of the work on our Flickr site. I hope to produce a longer online subject about the Bayeux Tapestry photographs so more information will follow at a later date.

Conservators working on the Bayeux Tapestry photograph, February 2009.Hollywood appears to have finally discovered the Battle of Hastings. There are apparently no fewer than three creative teams preparing to dramatise the events of 1066 for the big screen in multi-million pound epics. The story clearly has the potential to make a great film and hopefully the competition between rival filmmakers will bring out the best in all concerned. The medieval source material varies in reliability but the Bayeux Tapestry is one of the best. It is actually some of the less trustworthy sources that provide some of the most dramatic stories and I hope that some of those make it through into one of the films.

The events leading up to the death of King Harold Godwinson on 14 October 1066 have everything a scriptwriter could want: envy, murder, exile, brother betraying brother, the breaking of sacred oaths, endless ambition, bravery, heroism, lust, love and loss.  Hopefully the universality of these themes will draw in American audiences for whom the events of 1066 are of marginal significance, just as they were for 11th century superpowers like the Byzantine Empire.

I want the film versions of 1066 to be good – the story deserves it – and with the right attention to period detail there could be some stunning set-piece scenes. However quotes like “In Hollywood terms it is a ‘buddy’ movie about two men which ended in tears” set alarm-bells ringing. The film archives at the British Film Institute provide plenty of evidence that bad men-in-tights films out-weigh the good ones. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

The Bayeux Tapestry, 19th century copy based on photographs taken for the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).In 1885 the V&A’s photographic copies provided thirty-five members of the Leek Embroidery Society with the inspiration and source material to embroider a full copy of the Tapestry. The work was completed in 1886 and after an eventful history their copy found a home in the Museum of Reading where it remains today. Each woman stitched her name beneath the section she embroidered. The detail reproduced here features the name of Elizabeth Frost, no relation!

We are about to commission sets of clothing based on garments illustrated in the Bayeux Tapestry. Visitors to the new galleries will be able to try on an 11th century style tunic and find out more about medieval fashion and textiles.

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