Musicality in the Bayeux Tapestry
Chromatic polyphony

Study of François Murez -

Where William sends his messengers - Fragment of the Bayeux Tapestry

(Musée de la tapisserie - Bayeux)

On this piece of tapestry, is registered Turold, a messenger who listens William. We also find another Turold in La chanson de Roland, chanson de geste of the same period. It has even been said that this poem was sung by Norman soldiers during the Battle of Hastings, told by the tapestry. Thus, these two works will comply with these links. But these links are they not deeper? Here are two stories that are told two stories of traitors, battles, heroes and kings are ultimately triumphant.

The chanson de geste, by its construction, is designed to be sung, the caesura and the end of lines are the rhythms of melody, its sound is assonance. So what would be the construction of this tapestry?

In the Middle Ages, the square was often used. It is a pure figure, simple, allowing also the method of squares to reproduce and enlarge a work. It is a figure inscribed in architecture, in plan of cities, in the gardens of the priests ...

The central border:

Let us do a square (red) with the height the width of the central border.

In this example, the square delineates the two messengers and the dwarf. We will use this square as a measure applied to the entire tapestry.
Divide the square into quarters. They will be used to implement the grid. And draw two squares that are divided.

Appear so many things:

        ° The horizontal given by the top quarter place heads, the leaves of the tree, the head of a horse
        ° The middle horizontal gives the departure of the branches of the tree and the bottom branch, and the head of the dwarf and hands,
        ° The lower horizontal gives The bottom of clothes and the belly of a horse
         ° The lower horizontal gives The bottom of clothes and the belly of a horse
         ° Even from the diagonals of the squares give the swords of the messengers.

These squares divided, like templates, allowing embroiderers of drawings from the artist to place the coloured woollen yarns on the canvas and reconstruct this geste by placing each arm, each launch, each leg, each sword, each boat, each mast where the drawing of the artist commanded.
But this is only a small fragment. What would happen on a piece more complete?
Always take Turold, accompanied by the dwarf, and look wider.

A spy listening behind a column that is said to Guy.

Let our squares. The tree between two scenes, one that ends with the spy, ears open, the one where William gives his instructions to the messenger. On the left, place the square characters, spear, columns, swords, bench ... The space given by the tree can not be determined at random with all the squares on either side.

This space is just three quarters of the square. Of course, to see if it's not a chance or the whim of the author of these lines.
Let us see even wider.

On this passage, we have two complete scenes, both separated by trees. These two scenes each have two separate moments. The first scene described Harold who is led by Guy, and the discussion of the ransom. The second scene shows William and his messengers, then the messengers on their steeds.
Let us now apply our square these two scenes.

The two moments of a scene are separated by a space. If the space between two scenes is an accurate measure, it will be the same for the interval between two moments.

The interval between two moments is a quarter of a square. Thus in this passage are drawn:
2.5 squares (Harold and Guy on horse), an interval of one quarter, three squares (discussion), a space of 3 quarters (tree), 3 squares (messengers) an interval of one quarter, 2.5 squares (messengers) within 3 quarters (tree). Note that the caesura is at the beginning of the first scene and at the end of the second.
Thinking about the epic, it would be possible to say that scene is a line, an interval is the caesura of the line. Each hemistich tells a distinct moment.
Yes, but it lacks the assonance.

Not quite ...

Of these three examples, the group of dogs end a scene or moment.
On the following examples, a character is positioned at the break. The examples in the tapestry are more numerous than those presented below.

It would be even possible to do the same with a black horse.
Thus, at each pause, a visual "assonance" is placed. In one case, the dogs accompany a character. In the following, the dogs are present in the bottom border.
Unlike writing a laisse, the assonance is placed at each break and not always at the end of line. And also, scenes are not all of the same length ...

But still check if this idea is confirmed ...

The first scene was a moment of 1.5 square, an interval of one quarter, 1/2 square for the second moment. The second scene longer is a 1.5 square, the caesura is 5 squares 3/4. The caesura is at the end of the first scene and beginning of the second. It seems alternately, the caesura is, or at the beginning or at the end.

Another example ...

In these three successive scenes, the same construction is confirmed. At the end, see a final scene, longer than the others.

Two caesuras of a quarter are positioned, a minor (at the end of the first moment), a major just before the boat of the Duke. This is the major that creates the asymmetry with the scene before and the one after.

The squares are therefore two functions in the tapestry:
        The first is practical: The square allows embroiderers to enlarge and reproduce the drawings by the artist and are used to provide a framework at the work. Their function is to give birth to the tapestry.
          The second is aesthetic: The squares and intervals punctuate the tapestry and give its musicality. They breathe life into the work.

Thus, all these examples show that this tapestry combines elements of epic poetry. Each scene, such a line, include two different moments. The scene has two strong points at the end of each half-line that give rhythm and musicality. The breathing of each scene is animated by its simple colors that sound like each clear notes of a trumpet that accompany these men in their glorious deeds.
In this tapestry, long frameless picture, music, art time, get married to painting, art space. The artist who made up the story, gives life to the space by giving it time. Think of this other work, long tables frameless, painted by Rothko. Which way between the tapestry,work of an anonymous artist, the result of a collective society, music for a living world and that of Rothko, artist identified result of an individual company, a music inner silence.


Another point is interesting to note.
At that time, writing musical notes is using neumes written above text, as it can be seen on the next image.

It is fun to take a piece of the tapestry ...

... to make an assembly with that of neumes and compare the two ...

There is a real similarity between the writing of neumes and compositions of the borders top and bottom ...

Let now the initial fragment with Turold.

In this example, the animals of each border are placed at a height of one quarter of our square (close to deformation). Each animal is spaced by about 3 quarts. But it is not very clear.

Other works in the same period: Frescoes of the abbey church of Saint Savin - Poitou:

Painting of the crypt (1075-1125)

Legend of Saint Cyprien

Let's see if our squares are also applicable.

This fresco is also governed by the construction of the square: a square, fourth interval, two squares, interval of two quarters, a square. The two intervals give an animation, the second a little longer, bends the symmetry.

Peinting of the nave

The drunkenness of Noë - The tower of Babel

It is the same for this fresco: two squares to describe Noah lay in his drunkenness, three quarters for an interval (tree, animal) a square that Noah cursed Canaam, a square for the interval (tree), two squares 1 / 4 to the Tower of Babel (a quarter for God). The two intervals have the same office as before.
In both paintings, the construction square is found, as in the tapestry. However, the scenes do not follow and are not led by a general movement. We find that the practical function of the square.


This last example, speaking of music and neumes, is a reconciliation of the tapestry and music notes.

    This rhythm, already imposed upon us simply by our "reading" of the Bayeux Tapestry, casts an even more binding spell if we look at the forms. With tenacious insistence these all tend in the same direction, rising towards the right : horses at the gallop, lances, veils, groups of people, slanting terraces of buildings score the long ribbon with sloping lines, which are echoed in the border; and, as in the border also,the movement is now and then abruptly reversed. Il we pay closer attention, we notice that these long obliques fall again very often on a vertical line, a tree, a standing character, superimposed archers, a raised horse forming a succession of longs and shorts that are very web of the poem.

So, just as in the Chanson de Roland with its story of the treason of Ganelon, the poem of the treason of Harold is divided into strophes and scanned in lines.
Charles Bouleau - Charpentes : Painter's secret geometry

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