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Art Through Time: A Global View

History and Memory Compare: How Can Images Be Used to Structure Historical Narratives?

“Many fall in battle and King Harold is killed” (detail) from the Bayeux Tapestry

“Many fall in battle and King Harold is killed” (detail) from the Bayeux Tapestry
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist(s), France or England
Region: Europe
Date Before 1082
Period: 1000 CE – 1400 CE
Material Wool embroidery on linen
Medium: Textiles and Fiber Arts
Dimensions H: 20 in. (50 cm.), L: 230 ft. (70 m.) (entire tapestry)
Location Musée de la Tapisserie, Bayeux, France
Credit Courtesy of Bridgeman Art Library

Column of Trajan

Column of Trajan
Artist / Origin: Roman artist(s)
Region: Europe
Date: 113
Period: 1 CE – 500 CE
Material: Marble
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions: H: 125 ft. (38.1 m.) (with base)
Location: Trajan’s Forum, Rome, Italy
Credit: Courtesy of Giraudon/ Bridgeman Art Library

How can images be used to structure historical narratives?

Historical narratives are found in art across cultures. They appear in a variety of media and employ diverse methods to establish chronology or the relationship between multiple events. Some images, for instance, use continuous narrative, in which a series of moments occur within a single frame. In other cases, cycles or series of images appear within separate frames, but work together to tell a full story. Both the Bayeux Tapestry and the Column of Trajan fall somewhere in between these two modes.

Questions to Consider

  • Think about the structure of the historical narrative of each of these works and the way that each one would have been seen. How do you think the experience of “reading” each one is the same? Different?
  • Both of these pictorial narratives are highly detailed. Did details serve the same purpose in each work in its original context? How do those details add to our historical understanding of the past now?
  • Although the Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of England’s Norman conquest, it is widely believed that it was created by those who were conquered. Why do you think a Norman patron might have commissioned English artists to make this work? From what you know about the Column of Trajan, do you have any reason to believe it was created by persons other than loyal Roman citizens? In general, how do you think the perspective of the artist might influence the telling of history?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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