February 24, 2024


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The British stole part of the Bayeux tapestry and made it famous around the world

The British stole part of the Bayeux tapestry and made it famous around the world

A fragment of the famous tapestry, stolen by a British artist in 1816, is the starting point of an exhibition presented at the city’s Museum of Art and History and traces the history of the 19th-century work.

He was a young man and was recognized for his seriousness.“In 1816, Charles Stothert, subject to his majesty, landed at Bayeux. The artist, just 30 years old, was commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries in London.”At that time, the scientific community and scholars exchanged a lot on the Bayeux tapestry as they tried to find its origin. The first proven source dates from 1476. It is an inventory of the treasury of Bayeux Cathedral. Before that, we can only try to find a set of clues to understand the origin of the curtain“, explains Clémentine Paquier-Berthelot, digital program manager at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.

By the early 19th century, the search for this origin had mobilized scholars from both sides of the Channel. Everyone wants to claim “paternity” of this page of common history. As with the Napoleonic wars that pitted the two empires against each other, the debates on the matter were heated. It was in this context that Charles Stothert arrived in the Basin capital in the summer of 1816. A community of antiquarian dealers in London, wanting to know more, asked an artist to come to Bayeux and reproduce it in minute detail so that they could study it in London in silence.

In Bayeux, the young British artist encountered no obstacles. “Back then, the seal was not displayed to the public. It was stored in a roll. Upon request, agents from the city of Bayeux actually unwrapped it. Safety regulations are not current“, laughs Clementine Paquier-Berthelot. Charles Stothert completes his mission and departs the country with the first complete color reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry.Very important to the life of the curtain, to the knowledge of the scientific world“. and the beginning of a story full of twists and turns, recounted by the exhibition “Bayeux Tapestry: fragments of History” at the Bayeux Museum of Art and History (MAHB).

Because Charles Stothert didn’t leave empty-handed. Among his luggage, a small Piece 6 cm taken from the upper border of the display 56, at the end of the screen. At first, this “withdrawal”, as diplomatically defined in the MABH, goes relatively unnoticed. “Charles Stothert died after this event in 1821 at the age of 33, an accidental death on a stained glass breeding site. We know that in 1816, in the following months, he gave it very quickly to one of his colleagues at the Society of Antiquaries of London.“The piece then travels from collector to collector and reappears during the day when one of them decides to exhibit it.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of the Channel, the torn curtain begins a new chapter in its history, a parallel story told to us through an exhibition presented at the Bayeux Museum until September 18. It was listed as a historical monument in 1840, before being presented to the public for the first time two years later. “We had to figure out tricks to make a showcase cabinet fit its sizeWork In a relatively small space. It is difficult to find a place that is 70 meters long today as it was yesterday.“During this 19th century, the seal also “changed its face”. It was completely restored and its missing piece was replaced.

Across the canal, woolen embroidered linen continued on its way, finally ending up in the collection of the South Kensington Museum (today the Victoria & Albert Museum) in London in 1864. The director at the time, Sir Henry Cole, was interested in photography, which was developing in the second half of the 19th century. century “He I decided to come to Bayeux with this little piece: I am officially returning it to you so that I can return it to the tapestry, can you please open your doors so that I can do the first photo campaign for the curtain of Bayeux?

This year we celebrate the 150th anniversary of this restoration (August 14, 1872) and realize the first complete photographic campaign of the tapestry by teams from South Kensington Museum. An important date in historyWork. “This is a very important issue for Nada’s influence. For the first time, we have access to a photograph. It was quickly distributed in art schools and museums around the world. It was presented at several World’s Fairs, most notably in Chicago in 1893. Recently, a reproduction of this photograph was discovered to exist St. Petersburg, at the Hermitage Museum. Thus, it actually contributed to the public’s influence and knowledge of tapestry.

150 years later, the Bayeux Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum (formerly the South Kensington Museum) formed a partnership to create this exhibition, but launched a campaign to digitize 180 photographic glass plates made in 1872. , which is saved Well protected in a technical room. “V.SAn exceptional opportunity for us to put our finger as witness to the condition ofWork In 1816“, explains Clementine Paquier-Berthelot, “The piece was exposed to very little light, much less than the tapestry. This is an opportunity to study it, analyze it, and learn a little more about the elements of the curtain.

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The story of the missing fragment did not end with its restoration in 1872. A 6 cm piece of linen canvas continued to be talked about years later. “There have been a few rumours, and a few rumors that it was not Charles Stuttert, but his wife who made the defection. He was accused of this theft for a long time. Was this theft guided by a female “instinct,” as we read in the columns of The Times in 1881?“, says Clémentine Paquier-Berthelot,”She was still alive. She is 91 years old. She had to fight with her son-in-law to clear her name. She had to testify and in her testimony she referred to the second part. We know nothing about this. Another piece may be somewhere today. We have no clue. It is a mystery.

The exhibition “Bayeux Tapestry: fragments of stories” is on view at the Baron Gérard Museum of Art and History in Bayeux until September 18.