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Monday, November 15, 2010

Medievalist decorations: Bayeux tapestry, Spadina style

There are many ways you can use 'medieval' themes about your house for decoration. It doesn't even necessarily have to be using something that comes directly from, or is influenced directly by something from, the Middle Ages. Medievalist decorations could range from fairies scattered about your house, derivatives of Tolkien-esque decor, to the example that you see below. Both have distinct claims on being influenced by what is medieval and have claims to different kinds of 'medievalism.'

But I have to admit I did a double take as I was walking along Spadina in Toronto. Here was a very noticeable tribute to the Bayeux Tapestry, located not far from the Bloor-Spadina intersection.

If we think about this as a decoration for a house it is very clearly of medieval influence. Of course here, instead of subtle medieval-esque themes we definitely have a very direct tribute to the Bayeux Tapestry. It would be a stand alone item, for someone who is an enthusiast, though if I had to guess I would have to say that I expect that there is probably a lot more 'tributes' inside the house.

I think this is a very interesting and bold statement of the inhabitants interests. I don't think that it is going to go over well with many decorators, or maybe even with a home-owners association. And as much as I like these kinds of tributes, I have to say that I know medievalists who would not like this kind of deliberate advertising of interests either. Embedded in this outdoor display lies the dispute between 'academics' and 'recreationists/re-enactors' and the fine line that does, or doesn't, often make the distinction. Not all scholars will make this kind of distinction, especially not as much anymore, but this kind of display certainly does walk that supposed line.

Even more so since it is obviously the Bayeux Tapestry, and yet it is not any specific part of the Bayeux Tapestry per se, but sort of a mash up, or representation of it.

For instance here is the one side of the picture.

The Latin phrase Harold mare navigavit (Harold sailed the sea) occurs near the beginning of the tapestry, but this is not quite the picture that goes with it. Here is that part of the real tapestry, as provided by the Reading Museum that houses the Bayeux Tapestry.

And the scene where people build boats is from the part of the tapestry where William is getting his men ready to invade England.

The picture on the house on Spadina street has two sides. This is probably one of the reasons they put it outside. On the second side it shows a battle and says Harold rex interfectus est (Harold the king is dead).

Yet this is the image that does with that phrase from the tapestry. The tapestry is much more explicit about how Harold dies.

So in this tribute the words are from the real tapestry, and the images are clearly tapestry style and taken from the examples in the tapestry itself, but yet are not any of the images specifically from that work.

This pushes this work even further out of the realm of the scholarly and into the realm of the enthusiast. But I have to say that this piece of art brightened my walk, and I didn't know it wasn't actually a copy of actual images until I specifically checked it out, so in getting me to make the association with the correct piece of art this work succeeded. And despite its unscholarly nature we must remember that scholars too are enthusiastic, they just don't always show it.

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