Victorian Digitisation aids 21st Century Conservation

Read more about how a V&A Photographer's work resulted in the creation of six photographic replicas of the Bayeux Tapestry

02 Feb 2024

At the end of January, a number of media outlets shared the story of the 1872, full-scale, reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry which has been acquired by the Bayeux Museum in France. The 70m (230ft) tapestry was digitised by a photographer from the V&A, at that time the South Kensington Museum, who travelled to Bayeux to document the most famous piece of medieval art in the world and produce photographic images using glass plates and hand-colouring – a process that took two years.

1874 Bayeux Tapestry Replica (need to credit Bayeux Museum in image credit line).jpg

Image Credit Line: 1874 Photographic Replica, presented on two original Oak Supports (Bayeux Museum)

Six photographic copies of the tapestry were created, with this one (see image above) being acquired by Charlie Watts – the Rolling Stones Drummer who died in 2021. It will now be cared for at the Bayeux Museum, alongside the original tapestry and the Museum’s Director Clementine Paquier-Berthelot, explained why this acquisition is so important “As well as its heritage value as the first photographic document of the tapestry and a faithful reproduction of it at the time, we are able to use it to track the deterioration and alterations to the tapestry.”

Although announced by, then Prime Minister, Theresa May in 2018 that the Bayeux Tapestry would be returning to London for exhibition for the first time since it was created more than 900 years ago, this loan was unable to take place due to the pandemic and other challenges. The Bayeux Museum has now confirmed that the original tapestry is unfortunately too fragile to travel, with Paquier-Berthelot adding “Unfortunately we can see that the first scenes and the last have deteriorated in the last 150 years”.

The Bayeux Museum will close towards the end of 2025 and a new building constructed to improve the conservation and presentation of the tapestry. In addition to the museum’s ongoing collaboration with London’s V&A, where the original photographic glass plates are stored, the Victorian digitisation of the tapestry will provide valuable information for the team at the French museum and is destined for display alongside the original when the £30m renovation of the Bayeux Museum is complete.

Although the original Bayeux Tapestry will not return for exhibition in the UK, ‘Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry’ which was created in the late 19th century by a group of Victorian embroiderers can be seen at Reading Museum.

Article Headline Image: Detail from "Britain's Bayeux Tapestry" (Reading Museum) © Emma Jhita / Icon