Re-Framing the Marginalized: An Examination of Center-Periphery Relations in the Bayeux Tapestry

Re-Framing the Marginalized: An Examination of Center-Periphery Relations in the Bayeux Tapestry

By Lindsey Hansen

Paper given at the Vagantes: Medieval Graduate Student Conference, held at the University of Pittsburgh (2011)

Hansen’s research relates to a long overlooked part of the Bayeux Tapestry – the images that are found in the margin strips above and below the main section of this Anglo-Norman art work. Many observers believe these images – of which there are over 700 figures, including animals, plants and people – were just an artistic whim, but Hansen believes they have much symbolic meaning and serve to supplement the main story being expressed in the tapestry, by highlighting or making reference to these figures.

She notes some general patterns in these marginal images, such as having birds or beasts being shown in pairs, with some set facing each other, while other pairs are set back to back.

Hansen also believes that certain marginal images serve as kind of timestamps – to let the viewer understand how much time has passed between events. One examples she uses is the scene of Harold’s coronation and the arrival of Haley’s comet. In the first scene Harold is depicted regally on his throne, and in the next we see a worried Harold clearly preparing for trouble. The image of the comet in the upper margin may have been inserted to show how much time had passed since the coronation and the next scene, which would have been several months.

Another scene Hansen talked about was the depiction of Harold at William’s court in Normandy, and the highly-speculated scene of a cleric touching a female figure named Aelfgyva, which some scholars believe was some kind of sexual scandal. In the margins is depicted an ostrich, which were said to lay their eggs in the spring – Hansen believes its inclusion in the Bayeux Tapestry was meant to tell viewers when these events were happening.

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