York Professor Emerita Shirley Ann Brown facilitates donation of important documents

Shirley Ann Brown, professor emerita of Art History and Humanities, participated in a ceremony hosted by Patric Gomont, mayor of the city of Bayeux, France, and Antoine Verney, head conservator of the Bayeux Museums Group. The ceremony took place April 10.

Shirley Ann Brown

The event marked the donation of a treasure trove of original documents dating from the Second World War that was officially gifted to the City of Bayeux and the Bayeux Tapestry Museum. The documents consisted of a number of sketchbooks, colour studies, letters, and detailed sketches of the famous 11th century Bayeux Embroidery, which depicts events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in October 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England.

The items were created by Herbert Jeschke, a Berlin artist who specialized in archaeologically correct drawings of artworks, such as frescos. He was part of the four-man team sent to Bayeux in Summer 1941 in a project sponsored by the Ahnenerbe (Himmler’s think tank for the study of Germanic Ancestral Heritage) to document the tapestry and to discover the Viking elements in its images. The propaganda purpose was to prove that the Normans who invaded England were still Vikings, and not French, so that the Tapestry could be claimed as a document of Germanic history, explained Brown.

Shirley Ann Brown, third from the left, at the ceremony to mark the donation of the documents to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum

The Jeschke documents were believed to have been lost during the war. In January 2016, Brown was able to make internet contact with Herbert Jeschke Jr., one of the artist’s three children. They arranged to meet in Münnerstadt, Germany, to view the items in the family’s possession. The possibility of donating these items to the City of Bayeux was broached by Brown, who is a member of the international advisory committee for the creation of a new Bayeux Tapestry Museum.

Two and a half years of negotiations between the Jeschke family and the museum, mediated by Brown, followed, culminating in the donation. Herbert and Gerhard Jeschke were present to personally hand over their father’s work. These papers, colour studies, sketches and drawings are an important addition to the research documents in the museum and will be of great use to Bayeux Tapestry scholars, conservators and restorers, said Brown.