London’s Victoria and Albert Museum has signed an agreement with the French city of Bayeux that will see them work together on scholarship surrounding the Bayeux Tapestry, a 223-foot-long work that ranks among the most important pieces of the Middle Ages.
The deal, first reported by the Times of London, could put the V&A one step closer to reviving a loan agreement for the tapestry itself, which hasn’t left France in more than 950 years. In 2021, that deal was put in jeopardy when a condition report on the Bayeux Tapestry found that it was too fragile to travel. Some read the report as a sign of strained relations between the U.K. and France in a post-Brexit Europe.
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Created in the 1070s, the nine-panel embroidery depicts 58 scenes chronicling the 1066 Normandy Conquest of England following the Battle of Hastings. Scholars believe it was commissioned by the Duke of Normandy’s William the Conqueror’s brother Bishop Odo following the political victory.
It is not the first time the V&A has worked with French officials on efforts around the medieval artifact.
The museum’s first director, Henry Cole, helped lead the effort to produce a replica of the tapestry in 1869, negotiating with a Bayeux official to complete the project. The replica was first exhibited in 1873 and later displayed in the Cast Courts at the South Kensington Museum.
Around the same period, the London museum returned a long-lost fragment of the tapestry from its permanent collection to the French city.
The collaboration between the museum and Bayeux officials will be focused around the conservation and digitization of a trove of photographic negatives produced by Edward Dossetter, who was commissioned by the museum in 1872 to photograph the replica installed in the London institution’s galleries. Some 180 glass plate negatives will be subject to the conservation effort, which will eventually result in a digital database, the V&A said in a statement.