The Bayeux tapestry is unique in several distinct ways, so much so as to expand our sense of the range of works of visual art. Technically it is the one large-scale embroidery that survives from the eleventh century. (The misnomer “tapestry” may register the fact that that medium is more common in the medieval objects that have survived to our day.) As to thematic category, it is the only complex image of its age and area with a secular story to tell. But most of all, it is special in a way quickly obvious and magnetic to every observer—as a visual record of the great historic event of its place and time: the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Scholars generally agree that the work was made no more than fifteen years later. It is what we would have if a picture chronicle of Columbus’s voyage had been produced around 1502, transforming our way of knowing that event from the verbal (which it remains)...

 

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