London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the City of Bayeux have signed a memorandum of understanding to share research and expertise around the Bayeux Tapestry.
The deal comes after a planned loan of the 68m-long tapestry to the UK fell through when a condition report found that it was in worse repair than expected and too fragile to travel.
The 11th-century tapestry, which depicts the 1066 Battle of Hastings and is usually displayed at the city’s Bayeux Museum in Normandy, France, had been due to cross the channel this year following a 2018 agreement between then-prime minister Theresa May and French president Emmanuel Macron.
The cancellation of the loan was seen by some commentators as symbolic of deteriorating relations between the two countries following bitter Brexit negotiations. The mayor of Bayeux suggested last year that Britain would need to meet the €2m costs of conserving the tapestry in order to secure the loan.
The new deal gives no indication as to whether the tapestry will come to the UK in the near future. The Bayeux Museum is due to close for a two-year refurbishment in 2024 and the project to restore the tapestry is likely to take place during that period.
A key focus of the memorandum is a research, conservation and digitisation project around the 180 glass negatives of the tapestry taken by Edward Dossetter, which are in the V&A’s collection. Dossetter photographed the tapestry in 1872 under the instruction of Victorian photographer Joseph Cundall as part of the first collaboration between the V&A (then the South Kensington Museum) and the City of Bayeux.
Six full-size copies were made from Dossetter’s negatives by the Arundel Society. These were then coloured by hand to create the longest composite photograph made in the 19th century.
Subject to funding, the glass plates will be digitised, then integrated into a digital database that will show the Bayeux Tapestry’s appearance in the period after its restoration at the end of the 19th century.
The partnership will also provide the City of Bayeux access to the two Arundel Society copies of the Bayeux Tapestry in the V&A collection, as well as opportunities for research, curatorial and scientific exchange.
To mark the 150th anniversary of the museums’ relationship, a temporary exhibition, Tapisserie de Bayeux: Fragments d'histoires, opened at the Musée d'Art and History Baron Gérard in Bayeux last week.