Sunday, May 3, 2009
"The Unicorn Tapestries"
There are seven tapestries in this series, although one of them is lost. Only a couple of fragments remain. They were woven between 1495 and 1505. These tapestries were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1937 through a donation of John D. Rockefellar. They hang in the Museum's annex "The Cloisters" which is located in upper Manhattan on the Hudson River. The Cloisters just happen to be one of my most favorite places in New York.
The first tapestry, The Start of the Hunt shows a group of hunters starting off to search for the unicorn. They are not really dressed for hunting, more like noblemen. This is followed by the Unicorn at the Fountain. In this one the unicorn uses his magical horn to remove venom from the fountain. The third, The Unicorn Leaps into the Stream,is more vicious with the hunters having cruel looks on their faces. In the fourth, The Unicorn Defends Himself, the unicorn fights back, kicking people and other animals. The fifth tapestry, The Unicorn is Captured by the Maiden, is the lost tapestry. It is in fragments because of mishandling over the years. The sixth tapestry is The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle. The unicorn is brought to the Lord and Lady of the castle who want the magical horn. The seventh tapestry, The Unicorn in Captivity,is the most famous of the seven. Here the unicorn is alive once again and living within a fence.
There are basically two interpretations of the tapestries. One is the Christian interpretation. The unicorn represents Christ, thus his resurrection in the seventh tapestry. The other is that the tapestries were made for a celebration of a marriage, with the unicorn representing the bridegroom.
What is striking about the tapestries is the flora and fauna found in the works. They are for the most part symbolic. All are shown in full bloom, even though they would be from different seadsons. The plants have been woven so accurately that they have all been identified.
For instance, the pink carnations on the left. They symbolize earthly and divine love, betrothal and marriage, Christ and the Virgin.
The tapestries are made with wool warp and wool, silk, silver and gold wefts.
It is not known who commissioned the tapestries. Each tapestry has the letters A and a reversed E joined together with a bow. Some say that this represents Anne of Brittany, twice queen of France. In the third tapestry the initials F and R are sewn into the sky. This , some say, represents the noble La Rochfoucald.
For a comprehensive look at the tapestries click the link at the top of this page. This will bring to the Metropolitan Museum's site on the Unicorn Tapestries.