One of only four Bayeux Tapestry replicas in the world will be on display at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Friday, March 25 through Friday, April 1.
The 230-foot long, 18-inch high replica depicts the events of 1066 leading up to the Norman conquest of England. The replica consists of 50 panels of linen with acrylic paint to match the original tapestry’s embroidered scenes of shipbuilding and battles, unfolding like a newsreel.
“The original Bayeux Tapestry is actually not a tapestry. It is a very, very long piece of embroidered linen with scenes from the conquest of England through the perspective of William the Conqueror,” said Susan Maxwell, art department chair and professor of art history.
It was likely called a tapestry because of its epic nature, whereas most embroidery-work of the time was smaller in scale or religious in nature. The tapestry depicts the political beginnings of the Norman Conquest, building ships, gathering armies and the final battle scenes.
“It’s a valuable historical source and piece of artwork,” said Kim Rivers, professor of history.
The tapestry tells the dramatic story of the fight for the English throne after the death of King Edward, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. With both Harold Godwinson and William of Normandy claiming to be his true heir, the tapestry depicts the events leading up to Harold’s betrayal of his oath to support William and the preparations for war that follow his seizure of the throne. It ends with the fateful battle at Hastings that brings an end to Anglo-Saxon rule in England and ushers in the age of the Normans.
“The 230 feet of tapestry tells this incredible story of battles and of chivalry, and it tells of camaraderie that existed in the contemporary Middle Ages,” Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said. “It really is a wonderful glimpse back to what life was like in the 11th century.”
Leavitt said he became interested in the tapestry after tracing his ancestry to Normandy while he was a graduate student. His passion for the tapestry led him to bring the replica housed at the University of North Georgia to UW Oshkosh.
“The reproduction we have coming here is not thread on linen, but it is acrylic paint. The artists who created it as a reproduction were very careful of dimension as well as the color, so the reproduction will be the exact scale and color as the original,” Leavitt said.
The survival of such a large piece of textile-work for almost 950 years is highly unusual. Since textiles were typically worn or hung in open places, very few survive for more than 50 years, Maxwell explained.
“There are so many things in the tapestry that relate to historical events or how people lived their lives,” Maxwell said.
The replica will be on display at the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, March 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 26, and in Dempsey Hall 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, March 28 through Friday, April 1. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Maxwell said it is important to see works of art in person.
“You can look at it online, you can look at it in a book, but until you stand in front of it and get a real sense for the physicality of it, it just doesn’t have the same impact,” she said.
The tapestry also will be incorporated into UW Oshkosh classes across multiple disciplines, such as the Art in the Age of the Vikings history class.
“A lot of professors will ask the students to go see it and my students will be doing a project on some aspect of the 12th century and the tapestry will be a good resource for them,” Rivers said.
“You will never have a better chance to see the tapestry than here in Oshkosh,” Rivers said.
“It’s a wonderful example of visual storytelling and it’s a rare opportunity for people to see it,” Leavitt said. “I would like people who come to see it to take away appreciation for its beauty and its mystery. It presents a rich opportunity for people to engage in creative thinking and imagination.”