Reply
Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,924
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

I do love unicorns, always have (she admitted bravely).  Of course, the various medieval tapestries that depict them, notably the series called "The Hunt of the Unicorn" in the Cloisters in N.Y.C.,  and the collection called "The Lady and the Unicorn" in France, are of special interest.

 

419px-The_Unicorn_in_Captivity_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

 

This famous image, "The Unicorn in Captivity",  from "The Hunt of the Unicorn" series, has such a fresh poignance-- that beautiful, elusive creature surrounded by its little fence.  Tell me, you other unicorn fanciers, that this doesn't grab you every time!

 

Needless to say, the unbelievably intricate detail and lore of these tapestries could fill many books.  I found this old (mid-Seventies) video from the Metropolitan Museum that goes through the whole shebang, with lots of close-ups. I think it's about 15 minutes.  Have been going through in stages, as time permits. 

 

The film quality and lighting are not the best, be warned.  But the music is a gentle sea of tranquillity, and the plummy tones of the narrator transport the listener to the late 1400-1500's when the weavers art could do justice to these magical little animals and their environs:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzthzlLzAzg

 

In my own personal collection (ahem) I have just two unicorn representations, which I think is quite restrained of me.  One is an enamel pendant of a fanciful, apricot colored, sweet-expressioned unicorn.  And I have a vintage brass unicorn, in a reclining position, which I like to display on a stack of books.  If any mythical animal would be a bookworm, wouldn't a unicorn?

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 11,024
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

@oznell 

 

I'm almost 66 and have always been a unicorn fan!

 

I have a lot of unicorn representations too and certainly enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing!

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
Respected Contributor
Posts: 3,229
Registered: ‎05-22-2014

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

Visiting with Musel De Cluny in Paris is a must for tapestry lovers.  Quite an experience we would have missed unless our DD had urged us to go.  The unicorn theme is universally admired, and I also love tapestry art.  For we people who love this theme, there are some very appealing items for sale on Etsy.  I have never bought one of these reproductions, but they look very good for quite a reasonable price.  I did buy a repro tapestry tote bag at the museum I mentioned, which I use for very special occasions.

Respected Contributor
Posts: 3,912
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART


@oznell wrote:

I do love unicorns, always have (she admitted bravely).  Of course, the various medieval tapestries that depict them, notably the series called "The Hunt of the Unicorn" in the Cloisters in N.Y.C.,  and the collection called "The Lady and the Unicorn" in France, are of special interest.

 

419px-The_Unicorn_in_Captivity_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

 

This famous image, "The Unicorn in Captivity",  from "The Hunt of the Unicorn" series, has such a fresh poignance-- that beautiful, elusive creature surrounded by its little fence.  Tell me, you other unicorn fanciers, that this doesn't grab you every time!

 

Needless to say, the unbelievably intricate detail and lore of these tapestries could fill many books.  I found this old (mid-Seventies) video from the Metropolitan Museum that goes through the whole shebang, with lots of close-ups. I think it's about 15 minutes.  Have been going through in stages, as time permits. 

 

The film quality and lighting are not the best, be warned.  But the music is a gentle sea of tranquillity, and the plummy tones of the narrator transport the listener to the late 1400-1500's when the weavers art could do justice to these magical little animals and their environs:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzthzlLzAzg

 

In my own personal collection (ahem) I have just two unicorn representations, which I think is quite restrained of me.  One is an enamel pendant of a fanciful, apricot colored, sweet-expressioned unicorn.  And I have a vintage brass unicorn, in a reclining position, which I like to display on a stack of books.  If any mythical animal would be a bookworm, wouldn't a unicorn?

 


@oznell  you have shown restraint!  

 

my mother was also a lover of such depictions of unicorns in tapestry so i grew up with an appreciation.  there have been some gorgeous books over the years.

 

i enjoy your taste!

Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 5,111
Registered: ‎06-16-2015

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

Slightly off topic, but Tracy Chevalier wrote one of her historical novels about a famous series of Flemish tapestries. She did her research. It covered in great detail exactly how these early tapestries were made, yarn died, etc. It was also kind of a charming story. I learned a lot from it, including that to get a certain blue color that was permanent, they used sheep urine to set it. Anyway, the book is titled The Lady and the Unicorn. I told you I was off topic, but I recommend the book.

Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,924
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

I love that series "The Lady and the Unicorn" that you saw in France, @PamfromCT.   That deep red glowing background is lovely also.  How lucky you are to have seen it in person.

 

Your tote is a treasured memento.  I also have a framed tapestry fragment--it's not a unicorn, but a small dog in the meadow setting.  The frame needs fixing, thanks for making me think of that!

Honored Contributor
Posts: 12,097
Registered: ‎03-10-2010

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

@oznell 

 

Well, just one more thing we have in common.  When I was sorting through my possessions after May's fire, I came across even more unicorns than I thought I would.  One of them was this tapestry.  I did choose to have it restored.  I'll hang it when we're back in our house.

 

I started collecting unicorns in the '70s and one year my family scoured the stores looking for every unicorn in the Toujours Moi collection.  I saved those after the fire, too. 

 

unicorn

 

unicorn

 

unicorn

 

Toujours Moi

 

Corday

 

 

~My philosophy: Dogs are God's most perfect creatures. Angels, here on Earth, who teach us to be better human beings.~
Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,924
Registered: ‎11-08-2014

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

Wow, @just bee,  you are amazing!  Not only do I fiercely envy you your adorable unicorn collection,  I often wear "Toujours Moi" in the winter time!

 

I never knew that "Toujours Moi" offered unicorn items as part of their line-  how cool!  So glad you saved these precious objects from the fire!

Honored Contributor
Posts: 16,573
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

I thought you might find this interesting. I hope it doesn't violate standards

 

snip

 

t www.gloriana.nu/bestiary.html, from which the following excerpt is borrowed:

    No fabulous animal received more attention than the unicorn. His origins are in antiquity as well, but as a topic of zoology rather than legend. He came in many forms, and I can recall seeing a medieval manuscript that actually described three different species. But let us focus on the medieval unicorn, as best suited to our context.

    The beautiful unicorn combines the physical characteristics of both horse and goat. His horn is unique, not only in his having only one (and in the centre of his brow), but in that it is shaped as a spiral. The learned were aware that, were the horn to be sliced in half, there would be naturally carved images to be found within.

    The unicorn's horn was greatly valued, because it had the power of detecting and removing poisons. Place a piece of the horn in poisoned water, and it would bubble at the injustice. The medicinal values of the horn were vast, and a bit sprinkled upon suspect food would counteract the effects of any poisons therein.

    The exquisite Unicorn Tapestries, which are on display at The Cloisters, a branch of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, well depict the unicorn as a Christian symbol, with strong elements of death and resurrection. At the outset, we see him dipping his horn into the waters, thereby purifying them for use by the various animals that surround the pool. Intentionally or not, the artist placed a hart directly next to the pool, bringing to mind the words of the psalmist, "Like as the hart longs for the running streams, so my soul thirsts for you, O my God."

    It was well known that only a virgin's sweet scent could attract the unicorn, and there was a popular identification of the virgin with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Personally, I always have found that problematic. Considering that the virgin is used as "bait" for the hunters who seek to kill the unicorn, the mental picture of the Blessed Virgin's tricking her Son is repellent. But it would require a very active imagination to identify Mary with the "virgin" who appears in these tapestries. Her alluring, frankly flirtatious look makes us wonder if the unicorn is duped in more ways than one.

    Then, we see the hunters encircle and stab the unicorn, and an association with those who planned Christ's death can be interpreted. But the strongest symbol is the final tapestry, where the unicorn, resurrected and with an expression of majesty, reigns in the shade of the pomegranates. I always have wondered why the unicorn, in captivity, symbolises Our Lord, but this reasoning remains unclear.

    These glorious tapestries are by no means a singular, purely artistic interpretation. Identification of the pure, noble unicorn with Christ was very common in the Middle Ages, and perhaps that is why the creature's popularity was great.

 

Super Contributor
Posts: 351
Registered: ‎05-12-2010

Re: THE UNICORN IN TAPESTRY ART

I share your lifelong love of unicorns.  What's not to love?  I have a few in my collection as well, displayed on a book case.  I was always bothered by the unicorn tapestry with the small fence.  I always want to break the fence away and set him free.