Detail of Bayeux Tapestry, Harold is crowned King with comet above, c. 1077
In the last panel of Irvin’s cover illustrate the battle with a puff of smoke coming from the left and a soldier running away to the right. To the far right of the scene is another castle rubric lifted from the Bayeux Tapestry, holding the new King, Harold. In the modern version, Irvin tops the left tower with a swastika on a flag so that we would know that this is Nazi headquarters, instead of the comet in the sky above the castle as in the original tapestry. Inside the castle, hiding under the bed, is a caricature of Adolf Hitler. He is accompanied by his private secretary, Martin Bormann. Outside, holding on to the tower appears to be a caricature of Heinrich Himmler. The other officer outside of Hitler’s accommodations, might be a caricature of Erwin Rommel, who commanded the German forces opposing the Allied cross-channel invasion in Normandy. The Latin phrase that describes this scene is “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” which translates as “thus always to tyrants.” The border of final right hand scene is decorated with rats running away.
By using the Bayeux Tapestry as the model for his New Yorker cover, Rea Irvin not only brought historical gravitas to his image, he used the same sort of compression of scenes and parenthetical images to tell a complex story in a minimum of space.
* You can see an illustrated version of the Bayeux Tapestry on YouTube.
June 4, 2010
By Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, The Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies
at the Norman Rockwell Museum