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Marta Morazzoni: L’invenzione della verità (The Invention of Truth)

This is a very low key book so I am not entirely surprised that it is out of print. It tells two stories in alternating chapters, one fanciful but with some historical basis and one very much based on fact. The first story tells of a queen in Northern France who decides that she wants to create what she calls a universal book in all languages but she wants it to be woven. Embroiderers are summoned from all over France and three hundred arrive. But the queen is very demanding and the first month they have to spend waiting as she cannot agree on the design with her designers. When she finally does agree, they start embroidering. It soon become clear that the story concerns the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry. Its historical origins are unknown. The first written record of it was in 1476 though it has been said that it was commissioned by Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror. Whether the queen in this story is Queen Matilda is never stated and, for the purposes of the story, it does matter. Much of this story is followed through the eyes of one of the embroiderers, a woman from Amiens, called Anna Elisabeta in the Italian text but, presumably, Anne-Elisabeth in French. She is married with a young daughter and misses her husband and daughter. The key point to this story is the careful creation of the tapestry from the careful design, on which the queen has strong views, as well as the careful selection of the cloth, threads and colours. Nothing much else happens, apart from the creation of the tapestry but Morazzoni clearly aims to show us the careful creation of truth (or, at least, a truth) and the detailed human contribution to this creation.

The second story takes place some 800 hundred years later and concerns what will be the last visit of John Ruskin to Amiens. Ruskin had earlier written The Bible of Amiens (as the links shows, famously translated into French by Proust), a book about the sculpture and history of Amiens. Ruskin is clearly in love with Amiens, despite the fact that it is, in his view, a somewhat dirty city at that period. His first visit is not the cathedral but a walk around the city, stopping, in particularly, at a favourite baker’s shop, where be buys and enjoys a croissant, something presumably not available in England at that time. But it is the magnificent cathedral that does attract him. He looks out not just for the main attractions but the small ones as well, both in the cathedral and in the city itself. There is the gold-coloured statue of the Virgin Mary which particularly attracts him but also the other statues. He goes at night and visits the crypt, seeing the cathedral in its differing appearance in daylight and in the dark. And, of course, a comparison, albeit subtle, is made between the artistic creation of the Bayeux Tapestry and the cathedral. It is certainly an interesting book, even if not much does happen, with its beauty in its subtlety, the subtlety of artistic creation and how such artistic creation is appreciated.

Publishing history

First published 1988 by Longanesi
First English translation by Knopf in 1993
Translated by M. J. Fitzgerald