Review: The Rhetoric of Power in the Bayeux Tapestry, by Suzanne Lewis

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In the preface to her study of the much-discussed Bayeux Tapestry, Suzanne Lewis, professor of art history at Stanford University, wonders, "[W]hy another book on the Bayeux Tapestry?" (xiii). She confidently responds that she has "something new to say" (xiii) and quickly invokes the major recent studies of this important artwork. Although she does not situate her work in that context beyond invoking names, Professor Lewis states that she has "no quarrel with . . . Michael Parisse (1983), David Wilson (1985), David Bernstein (1986), J. Bard McNulty (1989), or Wolfgang Grape (1993)" (xiii). Acknowledging that The Rhetoric of Power "is built upon [this] thick foundation of extant work" (xiii), she offers the following as its theoretical approach and seemingly novel thesis: "By focusing on the art of narrative, particularly within the framework of recent film theory, I want to show how history is not reflected in images but produced by them. The pictorial narrative of the Bayeux Tapestry presents not so much an illusion of reality but reality itself" (xiii). In other words, and if I understand correctly, this "elitist work" (xiv) presents its learned audience with a biased account, with "reality" as its designer portrayed it, of events leading up to and including the Norman Conquest of England in 1066-not with a journalistic recounting of historical events. Lewis, then, sets out to reveal how the designer conveyed this bias by examining "the work as problematic fiction, shot through with inconsistencies and ruptures" (xiii-xiv).

Original languageAmerican English
JournalThe Medieval Review
StatePublished - Aug 1999


  • English Language and Literature

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