Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Fulford Tapestry

A couple of weeks ago I went to the York unveiling of the Fulford Tapestry. This is a commemoration of the Battle of Fulford in 1066 (Fulford is now a southern suburb of York), in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry. The new tapestry uses the same stitches as the original, in yarns dyed with natural dyes. (Neither of these objects are in fact tapestries at all, but embroideries.)

The new tapestry obviously recreates the visual language of the original:

You can see that these panels have in common: the figures of the woman and child and the burning house,  the strips of additional icons above and below the main story, some of the birds and beasts in these, and the sections of explanatory text. Elsewhere the distinctive interlaced trees of the original are recreated in the new Tapestry.

What was interesting to me however was where the new Tapestry departed from the original’s visual language, because this tells me about modern responses to this sort of story. In particular, I was struck by the abundance of blood on the new version, dripping from somebody’s head, colouring the river, and in pools under bodies, though this is not present in the original, even in the battle sections:

This must be something based our expectations from film and TV: someone’s not dead or injured unless there’s ketchup? Some of the dead have tongues sticking out. I can’t remember where this trope comes from, but I remember that this was code for dead when playing cops-and-robbers with my siblings when we were children. (The sound effect for this was “Bleugh”!)

Some more 20th/21st century features include a tower drawn with perspective, and images which feel to me inspired by photographs of modern re-enactments of the 11th century, in particular the walls of round shields and the bird banner:

The new Tapestry also includes marginal scenes derived from later medieval material such as the 14th century Luttrell Psalter, for example the reaping scene - compare to:

And there are scenes from Norse mythology: Tyr riding the wolf, Freya, and a famous valkyrie figurine:

Plus Godiva and Leofric (the 13th century legendary version) as a special bonus.

All in all: really interesting! And a considerable craft achievement. Hearty congratulations to Chas Jones and all the team.