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Book Review: A Needle in the Right Hand of God

The Bayeux Tapestry is a visual record of the Conquest of England, but more importantly, it’s a powerful visual representation of cultural memory from a time when literacy wasn’t markedly evident.

Professor Bloch encompasses the unusual travails this magnificent artwork has had to endure through history and its use by powerful military leaders for propaganda purposes.  He tries to identify the source of the rivalry between the French and English and manages to bring life, and give some sense to, the border images containing the story of the Conquest.  They have long been a conundrum.

We’re taken to Byzantium and Scandinavia for inspiration used in this multimedia textile and follow the travels of some of the players in this masterful, medieval piece of storytelling.

Images of the entire Tapestry along with supporting images for Professor Bloch’s research appear in the centre of the book, with black and white images peppered throughout.  The cover of the 1944 New Yorker magazine by Rea Irvin marks the clever use of the tapestry format in the political satire of WWII and shows the diversity of Professor Bloch’s scholarship.

I didn’t want this book to finish.  It’s a must-read for tapestry, history and embroidery students alike and is certainly a worthy read.

Professor Bloch is Director of the Humanities Division and Sterling Professor of French at Yale, the author of numerous books and a recipient of Fullbright and Guggenheim fellowships and the James Russell Lowell Award of the Modern Language Association.  He’s also an Officer in the Order of Arts and Letters and has been honoured by the Collège de France.

A Needle in the Right Hand of God
R. Howard Bloch
A fascinating expedition, full of twists and turns and well-presented research, adding even more layers to the allure of this amazing multimedia textile.

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