June 26, 2008

England also wants artefacts returned

Posted at 1:42 pm in Similar cases

It is usually the other way round – that the UK is faced with restitution claims for the artefacts in its museums & institutions, whether they are sculptures or human remains or other artefacts. Now though, there are claims that the Bayeux Tapestry should be returned from France, as it was originally made in England.

I have to say that this claim seems far weaker than most of the claims being made against England. The Bayeux Tapestry was made a very long time ago & although we can’t know the details, was likely moved freely within the country (which was controlled by Normandy at that time). Furthermore, it seems that England’s actual claim to have originally produced it is not universally accepted – it definitely does not have the clear provenance that many artefacts from other cultures now in the British Museum have. If the tapestry left the UK’s shores only a few years after it was made, surely its connection is now far stronger with the place that we have come to accept as it location rather than is original location (which can not be conclusively ascertained).

Notwithstanding the above issues, another issue exists of mobility could also be raised – this is not so much a valid argument as a point of comparison – how many English visitors can easily reached Normandy to visit the Tapestry in its current home, versus the number of residents from the area of Benin who can afford to travel to the British Museum?

The Scotsman

Tapestry row sparks new Norman conflict
Published Date: 25 June 2008
By Stephen McGinty

IT IS the most famous cartoon strip in history, the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066 detailed in colourful weave and stitch.

But the Bayeux Tapestry, one of France’s national treasures, was, historians now believe, actually made in Britain and should be repatriated.

The 70-metre tapestry that depicts the campaign of William the Conqueror currently sits in the town of Bayeux, in Normandy, where records show it has been since at least 1476.

Yet there is a growing evidence that, instead of being created in France as was previously thought, the tapestry was stitched by English hands and should now be sent back.

The British government has twice before requested a loan of the tapestry, first for the Queen’s coronation in 1953 and again in 1966, for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Neither request was successful. However, yesterday the editor of BBC History Magazine said that the tapestry should be allowed to be displayed in England.

Dave Musgrove said most experts were now agreed it was created on this side of the Channel.

He said: “There is a pretty good academic consensus that it could well have been made in Canterbury. The Latin script that accompanies the pictorial images shows signs of being written by someone who came from an Anglo-Saxon background. Secondly the imagery in the tapestry is very similar to imagery that we know was in illuminated manuscripts that we know were in Canterbury’s library at the time.

“It is an iconic document of English history and wouldn’t it be amazing to have it shown in England where there is a very good chance it was made, and wouldn’t that inspire people to get involved in medieval history? The crowds would come flocking.”

According to French legend, the tapestry was created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror’s wife, with the assistance of her ladies-in-waiting and as a result the tapestry is also known as “La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde” (Queen Matilda’s Tapestry). In recent decades, however, scholarly analysis indicates that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother, possibly to display in Bayeux Cathedral at the time of the building’s completion in 1077.

However, as the Bishop’s main power base at the time was in Kent, the tapestry is now believed to have been designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon artists. Yet one other candidate, recently put forward by Carola Hicks, an art historian at Cambridge University, is Edith of Wessex, the widow of Edward the Confessor, whose death in 1066 led to the dispute over succession and the battle of Hastings. Ms Hick’s posits the theory that Edith, one of only three clothed women portrayed in the tapestry, had it made to strengthen her new position in the Norman hierarchy and to show her support for the new King William.

Over the years the tapestry has been used in opening or closing credits of a number of films including El Cid, which starred Charlton Heston and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. The style of the tapestry, which was described by the artist, Bryan Talbot, as the “first known British comic strip”, was even parodied in The Simpsons. Michael Lewis, the deputy director of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and the author of The Real World of the Bayeux Tapestry, said: “I think it would be lovely to see it in this country. If the tapestry was returned, it would be possible to display it with the works that it was influenced by.”

However, Sylvette Lemagnen, curator of the Bayeux Tapestry Museum in Normandy, where the artefact currently sits behind four layers of armoured glass, said any move would require high-level permission. “It is not my responsibility nor the responsibility of the town of Bayeux to answer such a question because the tapestry belongs to the French state,” she said.

Tug-of-war for objects of desire

THE Bayeux Tapestry is not alone in being desired by different nations.

• Elgin Marbles: Also known as the Parthenon Marbles, they sit in the British Museum and have been the subject of numerous requests for return to Greece. The Greek government wants them returned to the Acropolis from where they were removed between 1801 and 1812 by agents for Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin.

• Lewis Chessmen: The chessmen were discovered in 1831 in a sandbank at the head of the Bay of Uig on the west coast of Lewis. Today, 11 pieces are in the National Museum of Scotland, while 82 are in the British Museum in London. Last year, SNP politicians called for their return to where they were found.

• Indian Ghost Shirt: The Lakota Sioux Ghost Shirt, believed to have been worn by a Sioux warrior, used to reside in the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, after being given to the city in the 19th century. It was handed back to the Lakota Sioux tribe after they requested its return.

* Last Updated: 24 June 2008 11:53 PM
* Source: The Scotsman
* Location: Edinburgh

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