President Emmanuel Macron’s recent announcement that France will send the Bayeux Tapestry to England in a historic loan was a grand gesture of cultural diplomacy, but such a move across the channel might be a pipe dream.
Experts who care for the 950-year-old embroidery have called the decision premature, according to AFP, expressing concern over whether the artwork is even in the proper condition to leave its home at the Bayeux Museum. They say that major conservation issues have to be overcome first before any plans can be made for an overseas journey.
Isabelle Attard, former director or the Bayeux Museum, told AFP that she had “huge doubts” about whether the loan was practically possible, noting that “a temporary exhibition in Britain is worrying on several levels.” She noted that moving it even a few meters would present risks.
Officials have not yet announced where the Bayeux Tapestry might be displayed in the UK, although it is likely that the British Museum will be the venue. The Guardian revealed today that it was actually Michael Lewis, the museum’s deputy head of Britain, Europe and pre-history who originally came up with the idea of a loan, and that Macron had executed it. The Bayeux Museum will close in a few years for renovation, and Lewis saw an opportunity to keep its prized artwork in the public eye.
News of the future loan had actually astonished curator Pierre Bouet, who is charged with caring for the embroidery. Speaking with AFP, Bouet said he had initially thought the plan “was a hoax.” He added, “If you were to ask my advice, despite the regard I have for my English colleagues who I have worked with for many years, I would say no.”
Similar concerns were echoed by a spokesperson for the town of Bayeux, who told The Local, “At the moment we need to remain calm over the situation because no one knows if it’s possible to send the embroidery to the UK. We must first conduct analyses to see if it’s capable of making the trip and there will be a lot of conditions before it goes ahead.”
Moving the Bayeux Tapestry to England would be a massive and costly operation: as the Times reported, the 70-meter cloth is sensitive to temperature extremes, humidity, tearing, moths, and even strong light. It’s not something you can simply roll up and haul onto a plane, either. At nearly 1,000 years old, the artifact is very fragile, and while it has been patched in hundreds of areas, experts need to stabilize it to prevent further degradation.
Macron had announced that the Bayeux Tapestry would be loaned in 2022 to provide time for restoration work. For many of those actually responsible for the embroidery, however, the obstacles to fulfilling that pledge might be too large to overcome.
In the meantime, you can work on creating your own Bayeux Tapestry masterpiece: GitHub users Leonard Allain-Launay, Mathieu Thoretton, and Maira have built an online tribute to the Historic Tale Construction Kit, which enabled users to create parodies of the embroidery. Cobble together any scene with stickers of soldiers (dead and alive), beasts, buildings, and more!